It was quicker than I expected, but today the La’el Collins saga comes to a close after he signed with the Dallas Cowboys on a three year contract worth $1.6575 million. The contract is fully guaranteed and which puts him on par with a second round pick in that metric. This was one of the more interesting situations we have seen in the NFL with a player expected to be a late first or early second round pick falling entirely out of the draft because of an off the field situation that he may not even have any involvement in.
Dallas was able to offer Collins sligtly above the minimum salary in the final two years of the contract because of the way the NFL calculates their total rookie pool. Though teams are limited in their first year payments to players, every players maximum contract value is based on the 25% rule. For those unfamiliar with the rule, the rule limits all rookies from having their yearly cap charge increase by more than 25% of the first year contract value.
Teams honor the 25% rule to the maximum level for all first and second round picks, but never do so for their later round picks. Since those picks do not reach their maximum value there is money left over to be spent in future years on undrafted players. Collins’ salaries in the final two years of his contract will rise by exactly 25% of his $442,000 2015 cap charge. All told that allowed Dallas to offer him about $75,000 more in contract value, though any team in the NFL could have done that (and possibly a bit more) so it was not what made the deal happen. It will be interesting to see if in the future more lower level players and UDFAs push for added money in their later contract years now that one team has shown a willingness to do so.
The Cowboys present a unique opportunity for Collins for a few reasons. They can play him at left guard over Ronald Leary, who is in the final year of his contract, or possibly over Doug Free who just re-signed but is 31 years old and likely expendable next season. So thats two spots likely open for him. Secondly we have seen Dallas in the past be willing to do early deals with players like Tyron Smith and Sean Lee which should open the door for Collins to earn that early extension that I discussed should be so important for him.
Collins will be a restricted free agent in 2018 and, if he is good, should earn a second round tender. That will be worth at least $2.7M by the time he is eligible so in actuality I would view this contract as a being worth $4.3575 million, which is essetially what he would have earned as the 52nd pick in the draft. He’ll earm more performance based pay if he plays over the next three years (the top earner last year received $373,000) than those 2nd round picks as well. The differential there likely bumps him to around the 49th pick in the draft. Dallas also has no state income tax which could be used to help compare deals as well.
His gamble to say he would not sign if drafted seems to have helped scare teams off in the draft process. Seeing how quickly the Cowboys signed him makes me think that the fear of not signing was as much of a threat as anything else. In the end it was better for Collins to be a UDFA where will receive almost everything he wanted. While he misses out on the first round of the draft he is getting second round money and a second round guaratee with more upside for free agency. He’s going to have to be good to reach that upside, but all things considered this is a story that is seems to have ended well for him.