On St. Patrick’s Day, the Dallas Cowboys released veteran right tackle La’el Collins. In a move that raised some eyebrows, the team opted to go another direction at the right tackle position. Collins’ career in Dallas offers some highs and lows, so today we thought we waltz through his timeline to get a sense of the craziness that has gone over the last seven years.
A rough start
Entering the 2015 NFL Draft, Collins was regarded as a top ten pick. A three-year starter at LSU, he played both the left guard and left tackle position with the Tigers. He played well enough that he could’ve gone pro after his junior season, but chose to return to school for one final year. It was a wise move as he further solidified himself as one of the best collegiate offensive linemen.
Unfortunately, Collins was never able to reap the rewards of being a highly-coveted pick as he never graced the stage at the NFL Draft. After news leaked that he would be questioned by the Louisiana State police about the shooting death of a woman he had previously been involved with, NFL teams got nervous. Despite never being a suspect, Collins was not picked within the first two days of the draft and went undrafted after his agent threatened that Collins would sit out the entire season if a team selected him on Day 3.
The Cowboys moved in quickly and signed him as an undrafted free agent, scoring a nice talent for virtually nothing. During his rookie season, Collins started the year backing up another UDFA guard, Ron Leary. An early-season injury to Leary opened the door for Collins to step in. Even after Leary got healthy, Collins kept the left guard job, starting in 11 games for the Cowboys that season. The following year, he remained the starter over Leary; however, an injury to Collins’ big toe derailed his season after just three games. This time around, it was Leary who took advantage of the opportunity, having a strong season in a contract year.
The rise of a star?
The 2017 season saw a lot of change along the offensive line. Veteran right tackle Doug Free retired and Leary left for a nice payday in free agency with the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys signed veteran guard Jonathan Cooper in free agency and moved Collins to right tackle. The front office was so comfortable with Collins that they signed him to a two-year extension despite still having a year remaining on his rookie deal.
Collins became a solid fixture along the Cowboys' offensive line, starting all but one game over the next three seasons. He seemed to get better with each year, and the team re-upped him one more time, signing him to a five-year, $50 million deal right before the start of the 2017 season. It was a move that surprised some as the Cowboys already had big money tied up with their three All-Pro linemen, but the team loved what they had in Collins and locked him up long-term. After the 2019 season, the front office looked like geniuses as Collins started to emerge as one of the better tackles in the NFL.
Falling out of favor
It seemed like just a matter of time when Collins would become the latest Pro Bowl member of the Cowboys' offensive line as big things were on the horizon. Sadly, he never got a shot to follow up his breakout season as 2020 was a rough one for him. He got in a car accident in training camp, showed up out of shape, and dealt with a hip injury (not related to the car accident) that eventually landed him on injured reserve. Collins didn’t play a single snap that season.
This past season was supposed to be the big return for the big guy. He returned to right tackle for Week 1 but then was suspended for five games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Making matters even worse, reports came out that Collins had attempted to bribe the drug tester, which resulted in his suspension being upheld versus potentially being reduced to just two games.
Collins returned in Week 7 but didn’t immediately get his job back as the coaching staff decided to start second-year UDFA Terence Steele at right tackle. Due to an injury to Tyron Smith, Collins was thrown back into action as Steele was asked to play left tackle. Collins eventually finished the season as the starting right tackle but it was clear he was battling Steele for playing time.
Last week, Collins was released, but he didn’t stay out of work very long as he just signed a three-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals.
It’s unclear exactly what caused Collins to fall out of favor in Dallas. Maybe head coach Mike McCarthy just loves Steele as we know he gave the youngster the nod over Collins for part of the season. Maybe it’s some of his actions that have caused the Cowboys to move away from him. Showing up out of shape, injuries, the suspension, it just seemed to all add up to a divorce.
In the end, the Cowboys got six years of service out of him for a grand total of $38.9 million. Even taking into account him missing the entire 2020 season, it still equates to just $6.5 million per season. That’s a big win for Dallas, especially when you consider it didn’t take any draft capital to get him. Only time will tell if parting ways with him was the right move as the range of outcomes remains pretty wide. Will Cincy get a Pro Bowl player or were the Cowboys right to move on?