The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted two starting offensive linemen this weekend, but now they have a chance to add a third one in La'el Collins. And they should go after him aggressively.
If cleared, #Buccaneers need to be La'El Collins' highest bidder, even after Marpet/Donovan Smith picks. La'El is better than both of them.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) May 3, 2015
This is a really weird situation because we have nothing to go off of. All we know is that his pregnant ex-girlfriend was murdered, it's unclear whether the child was his, and police are questioning him but not viewing him as a suspect. That's enough murkiness for all 32 teams to stay away from Collins for an entire draft, but at the some point the potential reward starts outweighing the risk of possibly having signed a murderer. The fact that every team was scared off has to mean something, though.
I have no clue how to evaluate, though, so I'm just going to skip past it. Let's assume for the sake of argument that if the cops clear Collins as a suspect, there's really no reason to pass on him. Given that assumption, the Bucs should pitch La'el Collins very aggressively once they're able to.
The Bucs do still have a need for offensive linemen, after all. Yes, they drafted what they hope are a starting left tackle and starting right guard on day two of the draft. And Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet do look like they'll have a chance to be good starters, perhaps even in year one -- but that's always a chance, and odds are that one of them won't work out. That's just how the draft works. Adding a third player will dramatically increase the team's odds of finding at least two starters, which is what they need.
More than that, Collins gives the Bucs another long-term building block. Demar Dotson will turn 30 this year and won't be around forever. Logan Mankins is 33 and has maybe one or two years left in his career -- he's been declining for three years now. Evan Dietrich-Smith is an okay starter, nothing more than that. There's a good chance that the Bucs will see themselves forced to draft another lineman next year -- they could instead sign Collins this year, moving either Marpet or Smith to a longer-term plan.
No competitive advantage
Any pitch the Bucs can offer Collins won't happen on financial grounds. Teams are restricted to offering undrafted free agents three-year contracts at league minimum salaries. They can offer undrafted rookies a signing bonus, but they have a signing bonus pool of $86,957 to work with, per Joel Corry -- no team has a competitive advantage, there. So if the contract terms aren't going to be a difference maker, the Bucs have to offer Collins the incentive to sign in other ways.
That is: the promise of a true competition for a starting job or just an outright starting job, which the team can offer with no hesitation: Collins is a better prospect than pegged-as-left-tackle second-round pick Donovan Smith, who could fit in at guard instead. The Bucs could also promise to renegotiate his contract as soon as allowed, which would after two years as the team's options are limited by the CBA. A promise like that is easily made, though, and doesn't mean a true commitment.
And that's it, really. The Bucs can't offer anything else. They can try to woo him by bringing him in on a plane, having the top decision makers talk to him, using Jameis Winston as a recruiting tool -- they can do all that. But they can't offer him any actual tangible benefits that will make Collins more likely to sign with the Bucs than anywhere else.
And there are actually some teams out there that can offer him better situations. He could probably start for the New Orleans Saints or Carolina Panthers on day one, for instance, with no competition. And there are a few other teams where he'd walk into a starting role, too.
Still, that shouldn't stop the Bucs from at least trying, if they're comfortable with his off-field situation. Because they definitely should.