FRISCO, Texas — La'el Collins and the Dallas Cowboys **have officially renewed their football vows** for the coming playoff run, and the veteran offensive lineman is ecstatic, to say the very least. Following the signing on Thursday morning, it was all Collins could do to keep from blinding every person who encountered him with his pearly white ear-to-ear grin.
"It's amazing," he said. "Feels great. I could never have even dreamed of it. I'm super excited and looking forward to this opportunity to just be a great leader and whatever they need me to be here."
Collins rejoins an offense that still features several familiar faces, from Tyron Smith and Zack Martin to Tyler Biadasz and, of course, three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott.
He and Prescott have long had a strong personal relationship, and a professional one, seeing as Collins was often viewed as one of Prescott's biggest enforcers on the field prior to the split following the 2021 season.
"It's great," said Prescott of the reunion. "Just talking about friends away from here? That's one of the guys. I think a lot of these guys are, but La'el, he's always been that way."
And it was at the exact moment that Prescott turned to his right and realized Collins was standing only a few feet away, watching quietly while adorned with the aforementioned gleeful smile.
"As he gives me that wink," said a laughing Prescott. "He's always been a friend. He's been a brother. Excited for him to be back. I know how much he wants this.
"I know how much he's going to offer this team. It's exciting. I know he's going to do his job at the highest level and he's not going to let anybody mess with me, so I'm always a fan of that."
His workout in Dallas was also attended by Martin, and it was Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay who personally called Collins to offer him a chance at coming home.
"I just told him, 'Hey, let's make it happen. Let's go win this thing.'" said Collins.
Speaking of winks, Collins said Prescott spoke with him a few days ahead of McClay's call, and gave him a wink that left him feeling something was brewing, and it turned out there was.
It's that type of brotherhood and camaraderie that Collins returns to, and just ahead of not only an all-important matchup against the Washington Commanders in the regular season finale, albeit one he's unlikely to be elevated for, but also with only two weeks or so away from the NFL playoffs.
"I think that's one of the most underrated things — the support from my guys," he said. "The moment I walked into the building, it just felt like I was right back at home, like I didn't ever leave. It's special and I embrace that. I don't take it for granted."
Now comes the football part of the equation for the 30-year-old, and that means it's time to put his body to the test as well — having suffered both a back injury and eventually a season-ending torn ACL and MCL in this one and only season away from the Cowboys, with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2022.
He's fully recovered at this point, but also hasn't played a down of football since last December, and there will be obvious rust that needs to be worked through in practices to come.
Asked about how he feels physically, though, Collins' response was unequivocal.
"This is the best I've ever felt," he said. "A full year of no contact, this is the best my body has felt in a long time. I feel like this is my reset button and it's gonna help to prolong my career."
Expect Collins to be primarily looked upon as a swing tackle for the Cowboys, but there's obvious position flex there from a player who spent time at left tackle with LSU before being moved to left guard for the Cowboys, ascending to the role of starter, before later being moved to starting right tackle at the height of his first stretch in Dallas.
He can be plugged in at three different positions on the offensive line, and one more that isn't, according to Collins himself.
"I can [play left tackle], no doubt about it, but I'll play fullback, I don't care," he said. "I just love ball, man. And I just want to help these guys win."
Goal line package, anyone?
It's not been stay away from the Cowboys, only one year, albeit a tumultuous one for him, but he has always viewed Dallas as home, and that's evidenced by the fact he never sold his home in the Metroplex; and it was all as simple as hitting the fuse breakers and heading back to work in Frisco.
"Just came back to the house, turned the lights on and picked up right where I left off," he said. "Honestly, I was in a position where I was thinking about letting my body rest as much as possible this year and getting back next season, but this was the right time and the right place. I had gotten to that point within myself, mentally, where I felt like [I know] my leg is good physically, and now I'm just ready to play ball again; and 2024 couldn't have started off any better."
One final aspect to all of this is maturity and evolution, and Collins made it perfectly clear the version of himself returning to the Cowboys isn't the same one that was released in 2021. And, now, he wants to share his story and mentorship with anyone in the locker room who'll listen.
When he says this all feels like a reset, he means it, and that includes how he wants to be coached by Mike McCarthy, Brian Schottenheimer and offensive line coach Mike Solari — who he's already begun to have an instant chemistry with.
"Just [want] to be an open book for anyone that'll listen, and anyone who wants someone to hear them out or wants advice," said Collins. "I've been through a lot of different things, and I've grown a lot. I'm 30 now, and I remember coming into this thing at 21, and I thought I knew it all but I didn't know [anything].
"... I look forward to being coached hard like a rookie, and taking it all in and getting better."
Time will ultimately tell the tale of how Chapter 2 unfolds for Collins, but both he and the Cowboys feel this plot twist could make for one of the better reads around.