NFL makes exception, lets Dallas’ Collins attend Rookie Symposium

La'El Collins (71) practices during a Cowboys' OTA in late May.

Matthew Emmons/Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

 

The NFL Rookie Symposium is intended only for drafted players, but the league made an exception for a big-name prospect whose name wasn’t called because of off-field concerns.

Offensive lineman La’El Collins is attending the event along with the eight members of the Dallas Cowboys’ draft class.

“My agent and (the Cowboys’) PR guys did a great job of communicating with the league and giving me the opportunity to be here,” Collins told co-host Gil Brandt and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “They accepted me with open arms. I’m excited to be here. It’s been a great experience."

As one of the highest-rated offensive line prospects, Collins was considered a certain first-round pick. However, he tumbled completely out of the draft after he was sought for questioning in connection with the murder of a female acquaintance in Baton Rouge, La., just days before the selection process was set to begin.

Most teams didn’t have enough time to conduct the investigative work needed to feel completely confident that Collins would avoid charges. The negative media attention that would follow if he was picked and then later arrested also served as a deterrent.

Those clubs that were willing to take a risk and expressed interest in using a late-round choice were discouraged by his agents at Priority Sports and Entertainment, who threatened that Collins wouldn’t sign and would instead sit out the entire year and re-enter the 2016 draft if selected.

After meeting with police, Collins had his name cleared of any wrongdoing or association with the murder in the days following the draft. He was heavily sought across the league as a college free agent before choosing to sign with the Cowboys.

Although initially projected to unseat Ronald Leary to start at left guard, Collins also received snaps as the first-string right tackle in place of the recovering Doug Free (ankle) at the Cowboys’ offseason practices.

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“I honestly like being able to play at guard and at tackle,” the 6-foot-5, 321-pound Collins said. “It just shows my versatility. I just want to come in and be able to create the best opportunity for my team. Wherever that is or I fill in at, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Cowboys defensive back and first-round pick Byron Jones told SiriusXM NFL Radio that Collins has taken full advantage of the chance to attend the symposium, which is designed to help rookies better prepare for some of the off-field challenges they will be facing  as pro athletes.

“You could tell he’s soaking it all in,” Jones said. “We have a chance to ask questions or talk, he’s the first one to raise his hand. It’s awesome to see him here so he has the opportunity to absorb what we have.”

Collins said he has taken the cautionary lessons being taught at the symposium to heart.

“A lot of things about choices — the choices you make and dealing with the consequences — are the biggest things,” Collins said. “We all make choices in life. Whether they’re good or bad, you have to be ready for the consequences.”