The objective of this work was to determine the time dependence of the basal component of intracellular degradation of newly synthesized collagen. Chick embryo tendon fibroblasts were incubated with [14C]proline, and degradation was quantified by measuring hydroxy[14C]proline in a low molecular weight fraction. When cultures were pulse labeled for 15 min and then incubated under chase conditions for 105 min, the amount of degraded collagen attained a value equal to approximately 20% of the amount synthesized during the labeling period; the data were fit with a simple exponential function that had a 40-min rise time and a 12-min lag time. In continuously labeled cultures, the rates of collagen synthesis and secretion reached constant values within 15 and 45 min, respectively. Degradation products were first detected 6-9 min after collagen synthesis began and were transported out of the cells more rapidly than intact collagenous molecules; however, percent degradation increased slowly and did not reach a constant value even after 240 min of incubation. Since collagen degradation lags collagen synthesis, it follows that degradation is a posttranslational, rather than a cotranslational, process, and since degradation and secretion are kinetically distinguishable, it follows that they occur in parallel pathways. A simple nonlinear model for posttranslational processing of collagen is proposed.