Cowboys sign La'el Collins to bolster O-line in latest risky off-season move
There is no telling where Jerry Jones scored a "buy one first-round pick, get two free" coupon ahead of this year's draft, but the Cowboys put it to good use.
Dallas landed cornerback Byron Jones with its actual round 1 pick, then stopped the fall of Randy Gregory—a potential top-10 talent in this year's draft class—at No. 60. Thursday, the rich (meant both figuratively in reference to the Cowboys' roster and literally with respect to Jerry Jones) got richer, when undrafted offensive lineman La'el Collins signed with the defending NFC East champs. The deal was first reported by Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Collins was a virtual first-round lock himself until police sought him out for an interview following the tragic murder of Collins's ex-girlfriend and her newborn baby. Baton Rouge police have maintained that Collins is not a suspect, and a paternity test confirmed that he was not the father of the deceased child.
Collins, though, left last weekend's draft festivities to meet with police, then went undrafted as the investigation continued to unfold. The NFL ruled that Collins was ineligible for the 2015 supplemental draft, and any possibility that he could sit out the upcoming season and reenter the 2016 draft vanished when he was not selected.
It was anyone's guess how quickly the free-agent market for Collins would emerge, but the Cowboys wasted no time. Because the salary on Collins's deal was limited by league rule, Dallas fully guaranteed its offer, per ESPN's Adam Schefter: three years and $1.65 million.
Dallas already had a claim to the league's top offensive line, as evidenced by DeMarco Murray's brilliant 2014 season. Collins should make it even more formidable. He likely will compete for the starting guard spot held by Ronald Leary and could be viewed as the long-term replacement for 31-year-old right tackle Doug Free, who signed a three-year contract extension in March.
The Collins addition is just the latest in a recent line of upgrades for the Cowboys line. Tyron Smith (2011), Travis Frederick (2013) and Zack Martin (2014) were all first-round picks, while Leary joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
Of course, Jones has left himself open to criticism with his front office's risky off-season moves. Back in March, Dallas signed defensive end Greg Hardy, who later was handed a 10-game suspension for his involvement in a domestic violence case whose charges were dismissed in February. Gregory comes with plenty of baggage, as well: He failed a drug test at the combine and admitted to having problems with marijuana use during his days at Nebraska.
Other teams no doubt were hoping to tread a little more cautiously into the Collins sweepstakes with the investigation into Brittany Mills's death, and that of her baby, still ongoing. Should Collins somehow find himself back in the middle of that investigation, the Cowboys' urgency here could backfire.
Assuming everything checks out on Collins's end, though, Dallas will have landed itself a starting offensive lineman and one of the top talents at the position from this year's rookie class. And it will have done so without having to use a draft pick—let alone the first-round selection Collins was expected to cost just days before the draft.