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Spagnola: Ain't It Great The Owner And GM Can Close A Deal Like No Other

IRVING, Texas – Alabama, Georgia, A&M and all you others in the SEC, you ought to be darn glad Jerry Jones owns the Dallas Cowboys. He'd a been the biggest pain in your backside if he was in the college game.

         Arkansas, too bad, you guys missed the boat. You had him. He's one of yours. He always will be. He'd have crushed it.

         And to those in the NFL, you had better thank your lucky stars the league subscribes to a socialistic approach to talent acquisition, where the player selection draft levels the playing field. One the meek shall inherit, and the salary cap essentially ensures no one team can monopolize the talent.

         Just think if Jones was a college football recruiting coordinator. There ain't a mama out there who would turn him down. He'd have been Barry Switzer before Barry Switzer, who never entered a family room he couldn't impress.

         And woe be unto the rest of the NFL owners if player acquisition depended on selling these college players on your organization, if an unfettered Jones could simply recruit to fill his entire roster. Forget about it. You think Jerry would let Buffalo stand in his way of getting what he wants? The Jets? Heck, the Saints? Sorry, my buddy Sean Payton, you wouldn't stand a chance.

         Look, there is a reason those three gigantic letters sit atop that stadium in Arlington … AT&T. There is a reason The Star, the Cowboys' planned practice facility, is rising out of the ground as we speak in Frisco. Why, they talk about having closers in baseball? Please.

You want a real closer? Then let me introduce to you the ultimate closer, and this will be no secret to those who have worked with him, against him or even known him over the past 50 years:

         Jerral Wayne Jones.

         Man, can this guy work it.

         And you need not know much more to believe me than the sales pitch Jones threw down this past Wednesday night when every team in the NFL realized the services of projected first-round pick La'el Collins, some calling the very best offensive lineman to ever come out of Louisiana State University, were up for grabs.

         Nearly unprecedented, this sure-fire first-round draft pick fell right through all 256 picks in last week's NFL Draft thanks to his previous association with a woman in Baton Rouge, La., murdered at the doorstep of her apartment on April 24 and his name turning up on the authorities list of people they wanted to talk with during the process of their investigation.

         There is nothing worse these days in the NF – worse than even deflating footballs – than having your name even associated with potential domestic abuse, the league's current cancer that they are trying to eradicate with punishment much harsher than what the legal systems have been imposing, let alone a murder investigation. And when the story broke the Tuesday prior to last Thursday's start to the first-round of the NFL Draft that police wanted to talk to him, Collins might as well have been on Mars. There was no way any team was going to even use a seventh-round pick on him until his name was cleared.

         What should have been the greatest moment in his 21-year-old life, the one bestowing in the neighborhood of like a $10 million contract on him and his family, turned into the lowest of pits through no fault of his own. Especially even more so now since according to the Baton Rouge Police Department Collins is not considered a suspect in the killing of the 29-year-old, eight-months pregnant Brittney Mills, whose baby was delivered alive after the shooting but also died a week later, making this a double homicide still being investigated.

         That conclusion was drawn after the authorities spoke with Collins earlier this week, a private investigation at the behest of his lawyer providing an alibi, proving Collins was in New Orleans at the time of the shooting, and a DNA test revealing he is not the father of Mills' now deceased child.

         Once Collins was cleared from being a suspect, or at least to the satisfaction of the NFL – that news came out this past Tuesday – then here they come, at least 26 teams, if not all 32, trying to get their foot in the door to sign the kid as an undrafted rookie free agent since the NFL ruled he was ineligible to apply for the supplemental draft later this summer and would only have been eligible to re-enter next year's draft if he had been selected last week and went unsigned.

         That is when Jones sprang into action, Collins saying he got a call from the Cowboys owner – not the head of scouting or some scout or some assistant coach, mind you – the owner of the Dallas Cowboys at like 11 p.m. that night.

         "We had a long conversation, man," Collins began. "That was the first time I really felt somebody had seen me for who I am. Somebody understood the guy – I went back to school my senior year because I wanted to be something special. I wanted to do everything I had to do to put myself in a great position.

         "And I sat down with him, he believed me, he trusted me. I couldn't ask for anything else. I couldn't be in a greater situation. I couldn't be in a greater place. I want to thank Mr. Jones, his family, this organization and everybody who is standing behind me, because I'll guarantee you this, I'm going to give this organization everything I have – and more. This is going to be the best offensive line in NFL history. Mark my words."

         That phone conversation then led to a visit Wednesday night, dinner at Jones' Highland Park residence. But it wasn't just any ol' dinner for Collins, his mother Loyetta Collins and his agent Deryk Gilmore. Come on, Jerry was going to put on the full-court press. There was head coach Jason Garrett present, along with COO and son Stephen Jones and offensive line coach Frank Pollack. There was Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten, along with his soon to be offensive linemates Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.

         Of course, he already knew Smith, who hosted him on his recruiting visit to Southern Cal during his senior year of high school. He knew Cowboys second-round draft choice Randy Gregory, his workout partner since they had the same agent. Gilmore knew Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown, the two teammates at Penn State some 25 years ago. And guarantee you former Cowboys assistant coach Les Miles, the head coach at LSU, would have put in a good word for the Cowboys organization.

         But most of all, there was Jones, the ringmaster. And those of us who have been around him since his arrival in 1989 have readily come to realize that you don't go into a room with Jones if you don't want to buy what he's selling. Don't even step foot in there if you don't want to agree to whatever he's trying to convince you of doing. You've got no shot once he's made up his mind.

         Collins had a pretty good idea he wanted to sign with the Cowboys after speaking with Jones on the phone. By the end of the dinner, he knew he was going to sign with Dallas.

And it certainly wasn't all about the money because all the Cowboys could offer him in a signing bonus was $21,000, the remaining amount from their NFL allotted $86,900 for undrafted free agent bonuses – likely no more than anyone else could offer. All they could offer him was a three-year deal for minimum base salaries in all three years, just like every other team, per NFL rules. The only sweetener allowed would be to guarantee the $1.65 million deal – all three base salaries – unheard of for an undrafted rookie free agent. But then these particular circumstances had been unheard of. So they offered that, too, though the guarantee would be roughly $2.76 million less than what his signing bonus would have been had he been, say, the 20th pick in the first round.

         But any team would have done that, too, I'm assuming.

         So now it would come down to Jones' presentation that night. His family's and the team's hospitality making this kid and his mother feel at home, feel wanted.

And remember, Collins knew ahead of time that the Cowboys sported one of the best, if not the best offensive line in the NFL. That there were three first-rounders in the starting five, along with a two-year starter in Ron Leary, and that veteran Doug Free had just signed a three-year, $15 million deal with $6 million guaranteed. Wasn't as if he was going to be an automatic walk-in starter, which would go a long way toward getting an appropriate contract restructure that is allowed in these contracts after two seasons. Better opportunities might have knocked elsewhere.

Still, he signed with the Cowboys.

         "It was probably one of the biggest impacts ever," Collins said of the Wednesday night dinner. "I mean, you get there, and from the moment you get there you got the leaders of the team that are there, guys like Tyron Smith. Guys like Tony Romo, you watch him play week in and week out. You watch at times how people try to criticize him, but he never once folded, he never once blinked. He stands right back up in the light of adversity.

"I mean, those are guys who have been faced with challenges throughout life. I fit right in with those guys – I fit right in with those guys. So when I take the field with those guys and this team, I fit right in. I'm part of something special. This is going to be a powerful thing, man. This is going to be powerful.

"And this isn't something people are going to talk about for the next four years, but 40 years. This is going to be a lifetime thing. This is something that is greater than any of us can see right now, is greater. It's better, and you know I just look forward to being here. I look forward to all the Dallas fans that are reaching out to me, that are motivating me. That's inspiring me. I thank you guys, I thank you guys. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I chose to be here. And I just want to thank you guys."

And before you rush out to by your No. 71 La'el Collins jersey based merely on hearing what he's had to say, maybe this is one of those times you should be thankful that the owner is also the president and the general manager, right?

Case closed.


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