About ten days ago, La'El Collins was in Chicago, just a few days away from being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, and receiving the life changing, guaranteed money that comes with that lofty designation — literally millions of dollars.
Then came the phone call that Baton Rouge police wanted to see him for questioning in the murder of a pregnant ex-girlfriend back in Louisiana, and since there was zero chance of an NFL team selecting a player who's brushing up against an open murder case (and not cleared as a suspect), Collins flew back to Louisiana.
Draft weekend came and went. 256 players were selected, and not surprisingly, none were named La'El Collins. Teams were scared off by the possibility that Collins could be going to prison. Back in Baton Rouge, Collins awaited questioning and stayed off the grid. Draft weekend posturing was done by his agent. Assuming he were cleared in the murder case, Collins would become the most sought after un-drafted free agent in league history.
And that's exactly what happened. Collins was cleared, coaches lined up, and when the dust settled on a Thursday trip to Dallas to meet Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Collins' choice was clear — he would become a Dallas Cowboy.
As an un-drafted free agent, Collins' income would be firmly capped at the league minimum for a three year period, a sum total of around $1.5 million over those three years. The silver lining is that free agency would come a year sooner than if he were drafted. So the goal for Collins, theoretically, would be to find a situation that best lends itself to a lucrative second contract.
To Collins, Dallas presents that opportunity. An emotional Collins gushed about his visit with Jones:
"I just want to thank God for this opportunity," Collins said to open his introductory press conference. "This opportunity sitting here in front of this organization, everything that it stands for, everything that these guys are trying to build here. I feel like I represent. I feel like I fit in. ... I had the opportunity to choose from 32 teams where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy."
Collins promised big things, not just for himself, but for the Cowboys' offensive line:
"I guarantee you this. I'm going to give this organization everything that I have and more," he said. "This is going to be the best offensive line in NFL history. Mark my words."
As Collins mentioned, he had his choice of most, if not all, of the 32 teams in the league. If getting a big money second contract in three years was his goal, Collins could not have picked a better situation than the Dallas Cowboys, whose offensive line is widely considered the best in the league with three Pro Bowlers (left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick, and right guard Zack Martin). .
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Barring injury, the worst case scenario for Collins is that he winds up as a backup his first season and learns from watching the professionals in front of him for a year. Under that scenario, an intriguing and very possible outcome is that Collins takes over at right tackle in 2016 for veteran Doug Free, whose cap figure is $5.5 million in 2016 and $6.5 million in 2017.
The best case is that Collins wins a starting job in training camp, which would likely be at left guard where Ronald Leary handled duties in 2014. Under that scenario, Collins will have the training wheels of Pro Bowlers on either side of him, facilitating his transition into the league. Dallas head coach Jason Garrett indicated at Collins' press conference that the Cowboys will play their five best offensive linemen.
With the selections of cornerback Byron Jones in the first round, defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round, and Collins as an undrafted free agent, the Cowboys have three rookies with considerable first round physical talent. While the Cowboys are still waiting to get back to the Super Bowl, it appears Jerry Jones is the early leader in the clubhouse to win back to back Executive of the Year awards.
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