OXNARD, Calif. -- In a week in which the Dallas Cowboys have been questioned for their personnel decisions and risk-taking that have led to suspensions and potential suspensions, the decision to sign La'el Collins to a two-year contract extension through 2019 on Tuesday stands out.
To understand it all, you have to go back to 2015, when Collins was supposed to be a first-round pick. Instead, he went undrafted while he was investigated by the Baton Rouge police after an ex-girlfriend of his was killed.
Teams simply could not take the chance of selecting Collins not knowing whether he was going to be charged. He pronounced his innocence (and ultimately was not charged), but it didn't matter. The first three rounds passed, and he was not selected. His agents, led by Deryk Gilmore, told teams that if Collins was picked in Rounds 4-7, he would not sign and would go back into the 2016 draft.
It turned out that bluff led to the payday Collins received Tuesday.
Four days after the draft, he was in Jerry Jones' mansion in Highland Park with Jason Garrett, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and offensive line coach Frank Pollack for a dinner. He was with his mother, Loyetta, and Gilmore. The next day Jones went to Collins' hotel for one final pitch, with the Miami Dolphins potentially getting in the mix.
The Cowboys had a deal but one much smaller than what Collins would have received as a first-round pick. Had he been selected in the middle of the round, he would have earned roughly $10 million in the first four years. As an undrafted free agent, he received a signing bonus of $21,000 and the fully guaranteed deal was worth roughly $1.6 million.
"I never look back," Collins said. "I think that's the biggest thing. If you want to move forward in life, if you want to go somewhere, you have to keep your eyes on what is in front of you. I think that's the biggest piece to it."
Had Collins been drafted, he would not have been able to sign an extension until next year. Without an extension, the Cowboys were looking at using the first-round tender on Collins next year as a restricted free agent.
Instead he will receive a $4 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary this year. He has base salaries of $4.5 million and $6.5 million in 2018 and '19. The 2019 base salary will rise to $8.5 million if he plays in 85 percent of the snaps this season and next.
From the money he has earned to the money he will earn -- of which $9.5 million is fully guaranteed at the time of signing -- he is close to garnering what he would have received as a first-rounder.
"I don't really know how to say if that really makes up for it or not," Collins said. "I know that now, going into my third year, this is where I'm at. I'm really excited about it. I'm really thankful for this opportunity, really thankful that they believe in me, and it feels great."
There is still some risk on Dallas' part, but this time it is only on the field. Collins has started only 14 games in his first two seasons -- all at left guard. He played only in parts of three games last year because of a toe injury. This year, he is moving to right tackle.
Clearly the Cowboys are confident he can make the move without any issue. He played left tackle at LSU. He is confident the switch will be smooth.
The first call he made when the deal was close Monday night was to his mother.
"She was extremely excited and extremely happy," Collins said. "It's a great time in my life right now, extremely blessed."
It's not the route he envisioned in 2015, but Collins is glad it has worked out this way. So are the Cowboys.
"I mean where else would you want to play at? Where else would you want to be?" Collins said. "And especially playing with the guys I get to play with. That's the biggest thing about it. You're playing with guys that have the same vision, the same goals, and it only made me better as a player. I can't say that I'd be in this same situation without those guys. For me, man, I owe it to God first, my family and my teammates."