La'el Collins is now with the Dallas Cowboys, but his draft-day experience is one of the strangest I've ever seen. Seen as a top 15 pick before the 2015 NFL draft, his stock collapsed when police wanted to question him (not as a suspect) in connection with the murder of a pregnant ex-girlfriend. That and a threat of his agents that he'd hold out until next year if he was drafted after round three (which would be less lucrative than going undrafted, in his case) caused every team in the NFL to pass him up.
Every team in the NFL had to ask themselves, for four rounds of the draft, whether the risk of wasting a late-round pick and potentially some PR blowback was worth the potential reward of adding a top-shelf lineman to their team. Given that most of those teams would have no shot of signing Collins in free agency, I'm baffled that no one pulled the trigger.
It's even more baffling, because his agents essentially admitted to running an extensive bluff with their threat to hold out if he were drafted. That, at least, is what they told The MMQB.
"We can put it on the record now: We were never going back in the draft," Smith says of waiting for the 2016 draft. "If someone had drafted him, we would've had a long, long discussion about it, but at the end of the day you can't go back in the draft. He could get injured, gain weight, or 10 great tackles could come out. Too many risks."
So yes, it was a bluff. Can we fault NFL teams for not calling that bluff? I guess they're all afraid of the PR blowback, but I don't see anyone bashing the Cowboys for heavily courting Collins. Teams routinely use late-round picks on risky prospects, or players they have no real shot of convincing to sign with them as undrafted free agents -- and Collins fell into both categories for much of the league.
The absurdity of this situation was made patently obvious after the draft. Teams weren't willing to spend a seventh-round draft pick on Collins, but nearly all of them jumped at the opportunity to sign him to a much more lucrative contract than he would have gotten in the draft. They were so desperate that a minor public bidding war occurred, something that entails a much bigger commitment than a seventh-round pick. Multiple teams had players courting Collins. But he signed with the Cowboys.
So what changed between the draft and undrafted free agency? Collins had talked to police, but his status hadn't really changed. He was not a suspect before he talked to police, and he was not a suspect after he talked to them. There was no clearing of his name, because there was nothing to be cleared from. Certainly the fact that he wasn't charged matters, but if he were charged whichever team had drafted him would have dropped him immediately anyway, thereby minimizing any blowback.
Passing on Collins was not a particularly rational action, given what transpired after the draft. For any NFL team, really, let alone all 32 of them. And yet, every NFL team still did just that.