OXNARD, Calif.– It has long been speculated that the Cowboys would get a contract extension done with one of their offensive linemen during training camp.
That came to pass Tuesday afternoon, but it was a different player than most expected.
The Cowboys signed La'el Collins two a two-year contract extension, securing his future with the team through the 2019 season. Collins had been slated for the final year of his three-year contract, which he signed in 2015 as an undrafted free agent.
"It's just a testament of hard work, commitment and dedication – trusting the process," Collins said after Tuesday's practice.
Of course, Collins wasn't a typical undrafted free agent. The LSU graduate was widely expected to be a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, but his prospects were torpedoed when he was sought for questioning in the death of an ex-girlfriend.
Collins was eventually absolved of any wrongdoing, but the situation prompted him to fall out of the draft. He eventually signed on in Dallas for far less than his projected value – a three-year deal worth roughly $1.6 million.
"I never look back," Collins said. "I think that's the biggest thing – I think if you want to move forward in life, if you want to go somewhere, you've got to keep your eyes in front of you. I think that's the biggest piece to it."
Even if Collins doesn't want to look back, this latest pay day should rectify some of his lost earnings. The extension is reportedly worth $15.4 million with a $4 million signing bonus. That's an average of $7.7 million per season, which is among the best in the league for right tackles.
"The fact that he went through what he went through, I think it's great for us to work on something," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "Obviously, if you're not drafted you can do something over two years. We told him we'd look at it if we could get a year of his free agency, then we'd do it."
Given their cap situation, none of this should prevent the Cowboys from continuing to work with Zack Martin on a long-term extension. Jones said as recently as Saturday that the front office intended to work hard at extending their All-Pro guard during their time at training camp.
Collins said Tuesday that he had an idea the Cowboys would try to extend him, as well. But his focus throughout the summer was strictly on football. The Cowboys are counting on Collins to fill the position that Doug Free has maintained for much of the last decade – and they clearly believe in him, based on the pay day.
"We're looking for the best five guys," Collins said. "I think just being outside of Zack and us being able to work together, I think that's going to be a big piece for us."
If not, Collins has already demonstrated he can excel at guard, where he was solid as a starter during his rookie season.
"At the end of the day, we love what we're seeing there, but the versatility is great," Jones said. "We loved what we saw at guard. He played at a very high level at guard. Now to be able to kick out at tackle, that's versatility. We know he can play at a high level."
Either way, the deal with Collins will keep the Cowboys' vaunted offensive line intact for at least a few more seasons. Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are playing on long-term contracts, and Martin still has at least two seasons remaining on his rookie deal. Chaz Green, who is a candidate to start at left guard, also has two seasons remaining on his rookie contract.