La'el Collins is finally an NFL player after signing a contract with the Dallas Cowboys, according to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Collins was officially announced as a new member of the Cowboys Thursday afternoon and could play either guard or tackle on their offensive line.
According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, the deal is worth $1.7 million over three years -- fully guaranteed. Breer noted that may be a first for an undrafted free agent.
After meeting with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and a few players on the team Wednesday night, Collins made up his mind on where he was going to sign. "I had the opportunity to choose, from 32 teams, where I wanted to be," Collins said, via David Helman of the Cowboys' official team site. "I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy."
Collins was considered to be one of the top prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft and ranked No. 12 on the board of SB Nation's Dan Kadar. However, he wasn't even selected in the draft after he was connected to the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
While Collins wasn't listed as a suspect in the case, he did meet with authorities in Baton Rouge on May 4 and cooperated fully with the police during the interview. Two other developments over the next few days further cleared his name and convinced teams that he was worth signing: he passed a polygraph test administered by an independent investigator working on the case, and the results of a paternity test showed that he was not the father of the child of his now-deceased ex-girlfriend.
The news that Baton Rouge PD wished to speak with Collins broke just before the beginning of the 2015 NFL Draft, which Collins was in Chicago to intend. He flew back to Louisiana and made an appeal to be removed from the draft, but that was denied. Collins also announced intentions to re-enter the draft in 2016, but he became ineligible to do so when he went undrafted and officially became a free agent.
Had Collins been selected in the first round, he would have received a signing bonus of no less than $3 million and likely would've received a deal worth more than $7 million. As an undrafted free agent, he won't receive an amount near that much, but he does have some advantages over some drafted players.
Undrafted free agents can't receive more than $88,000 in total bonuses and have a standard three-year contract of $435,000 in the first year, $525,000 in the second and $615,000 in the third. Drafted rookies are bound to a fourth season though, and Collins can instead become a restricted free agent. If he really impresses, Collins could also renegotiate a new deal after two seasons.
Collins was a top prospect following his junior year in 2013, but decided to return for his senior season at LSU. He won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as a senior, recognizing the best offensive lineman in the SEC, and he earned second-team All-America honors.