For the last three years, Giants-Commanders games meant something extra to Landon Collins.
Even with $44.5 million guaranteed in his contract, a starting safety job and a captain’s ‘C’ on his uniform in Washington, Collins harbored a grudge against then-Giants general manager Dave Gettleman for not offering an extension before free agency that could’ve kept the former second-round draft pick in one place for his whole career.
“I took this game more seriously,” said Collins, who is back on the Giants’ side of the rivalry headed into Sunday’s meeting. “Being here before, it felt like I had something to prove when I was playing against the Giants. I’ve got no hard feelings against Washington.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. If anything, Collins still is trying to prove himself to the Giants.
The 28-year-old three-time Pro Bowler is idling on the practice squad after he was elevated for back-to-back games against the Jaguars and Seahawks. Just when it seemed that he might be part of the regular defensive back-seven rotation, he hasn’t been active for the three games since the bye week.
“Frustrating, if I’m being honest,” Collins said with a deep sigh after Tuesday’s practice. “But it’s good to teach these [younger] guys and answer questions, still be in the building and help out. I have hope … and once the opportunity comes, I’ll definitely go crazy when I get on the field.”
The Commanders cut Collins in March, with three years remaining on the six-year, $84 million contract that originally lured him from the Giants. Collins missed 13 games combined due to a torn Achilles and a foot injury over the previous two seasons, but he refuted reports that he balked at a pay cut to stay put.
“Injuries set me back over there,” Collins said. “I get the process. I wasn’t producing anything. When I was on the field, I tried to produce as much as I can. They wanted a pay cut, but they never gave me numbers on what it would be, so I was like, ‘I don’t have time to keep playing around. I need to figure out what’s going on.’ ”
After playing in plenty of Giants-Commanders battles to avoid the NFC East basement, Collins isn’t surprised by a meeting with playoff implications. Despite the constant ownership-centric dysfunction around the Commanders, Collins saw how “regardless of outside noise, the guys came together.”
“I knew Washington had it, even when I was there,” Collins said. “It was just little things we had to fix. They had a bad start [1-4] and look at them now. Same thing over here: We have little compartments we need to fix, but we are finishing out those hard games and winning.”
Since adding Collins to the practice squad in October, the Giants lost safety Xavier McKinney to a broken hand and reshuffled their inside linebacker depth. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale calls his scheme a “position-less defense,” but neither maneuver opened the door wider for Collins, who is at his best playing in the box.
“Each week we talk about the roster and — whether it’s the defensive scheme, the offensive scheme — what we need,” head coach Brian Daboll said. “That changes on a week-to-week basis.”
Collins leans on former teammates for help wrapping his mind around the fall from stardom to a reduced role. He can only be elevated from the practice squad once more before the Giants would have to let him walk or sign him to the active roster.
“It takes me about a day [every week] to let it sink in,” Collins said. “Everybody keeps on telling me that my time is coming. I’m staying patient.”
It softens the blow that the Giants are in the postseason hunt. Collins is the only healthy member of the team who played in the last Giants’ playoff game in 2016.
“Sometimes once you are out [of the league], it’s hard to get back in,” Collins said. “Being on the field, showing people that you can still move around and play at a high level, and still be coachable and helpful is great. … I’m glad to be a part of this [situation], being 7-4. This will be my third playoff run, if we get there.”
To that end, Collins, who played zero special teams snaps over his three years in Washington, was a wing on punt team Tuesday in place of an ill teammate. Is that a sign he will be part of the revenge game?
“I wish it was,” a still uncertain Collins said. “I’m prepared and ready to go.”