Cowboys Win La'El Collins Sweepstakes
The Dallas Cowboys promised La'el Collins two things: One, the same thing as all other bidders for the services of the first-round talent who slipped into the undrafted-free-agent pool: A three-year guaranteed salary of $1,657,500, the UDFA max. And two, a chance to join "The Great Wall of Dallas II,'' what one CowboysHQ.com reader is calling "The Legion Of Room,'' what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called, in his Wednesday night pitch to the player, "the best offensive line in football.''
And "the best offensive line in football'' just got better.
Before last Thursday's draft, LSU's Collins was an automatic first-rounder. But he went undrafted after Baton Rouge (La.) police said they wanted to talk to him in connection with the murder of a woman and the subsequent death of her baby boy. Baton Rouge police said all along that Collins was not a suspect in the case but teams nevertheless red-flagged him until this week, when a paternity test found Collins is not the father of the deceased child and a polygraph test demonstrated he was being truthful about not being involved in the double-homicide. (Sources tell me that the investigation there is about to turn to some folks with even higher profiles than this LSU football player who may have been set up to look guilty by some powerbrokers.)
Jones hosted a gathering at his Dallas mansion that featured members of Collins' family along with QB Tony Romo and the Cowboys offensive linemen. A key element in Romo's involvement: Helping Collins understand how badly the Joneses want to extend his career -- and how much an assortment of stud protectors in their early 20's can help make that happen. (Worth nothing: this "Great Wall'' might also help Dallas someday win with a QB less gifted than Romo, but that's a tale for another day -- or year.)
Collins was told he might begin his career at guard (Ron Leary is presently the left guard, a good young player making just $585K in the final year of his deal) but eventually compete at right tackle (Doug Free's spot). This franchise has a deep history of "The Best Five Play'' and Collins apparently bought into that concept. ("Position flex,'' you'll recall, worked marvelously for Tuinei, Allen, Gesek, Gogan, Williams, Newton and that bunch.) Under Jones, Dallas also has a tradition of "second-chance giving.'' It's no coincidence that agent Deryk Gilmore just days ago walked controversial rookie defensive end into a relationship with the Cowboys as their freshly-minted second-round pick ... and that Gilmore is also the agent for Collins.
Tackle is where the payday looms, as Collins begins his career with salaries of $435K in 2015, $545.5K in 2016 and $656K in 2017 (plus a $21K bonus), but a chance to get a new extension after two seasons. Free has a three-year deal but is due to make $5 mil in 2017 ... maybe just when Dallas will be wishing to move from him.
The Cowboys were so convincing that Collins passed on plans to visit Miami, Atlanta and elsewhere before making a decision, instead making this "tour'' a very short one. Credit goes here to the owner, unique in so many ways, a negative lightning rod in so many others, but indisputably a winning negotiator. Jones being both the owner and GM streamlined this process, and the Cowboys' organizational chart kept people in their proper lanes. That includes coaches in constant contact with Les Miles, the LSU coach and former Dallas staffer who I'm told raves about Collins as a person, and includes law-enforcement connections with "boots on the ground'' in Baton Rouge in the last week to monitor the situation.
But in no small part is also meant Jerry in his environment, geein' and hawin', in his mansion, in his element, closing the sale ... in his lane.
The Cowboys already have Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zach Martin as young Pro-Bowl-caliber players grabbed in the first round. And now they have what they believe is a fourth -- but grabbed as an undrafted steal.