Let's be clear about one thing first: this is not a happy ending. It's the best possible ending we probably could have gotten, but I still hesitate to call it a happy one. There is still a woman dead in Baton Rouge, and her killer is still at large. La'el Collins has done just about everything a human being can do to clear his name short of actually catching the killers himself, but he is finding out that one can't prove a negative. The cost of this lesson was his status as a first round draft pick and a few million dollars.
This will always be a part of Collins' story now, and the worst part for him is, no one will remember it right. Ten, twenty years from now, when casual fans hear the name La'el Collins will ask, "Wasn't he the guy who had something to do with his ex-girlfriend getting killed?" As Jonathan Swift told us, a lie can travel around the world before the truth has a chance to get its shoes on. Left out is that the truth never catches up.
* Swift actually said "Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it." No, Mark Twain didn't say it. Mark Twain didn't come up with every cool aphorism. Just most of them.
He's going to face rumors, whispers, and stupid jokes for the next year, if he's lucky. If he's unlucky, it will dog him for the rest of his life. All for a crime he did not commit.
NFL teams will tell you that he slipped out of the draft because he was a "character concern," but that's a lie and we all know it. Collins slipped solely because no team wanted to spend a pick on a guy who didn't show up to their training camp. They could give a damn about character, as the entire history of pro sports' personnel moves demonstrate. Character only matters if it means some bad PR.
So Collins, who should have been a first round pick, slipped all of the way out of the draft because nobody wanted a news item which read "YOUR TEAM HERE Draft Pick La'el Collins Arrested for Murder." Collins' character is the same today as it was a week ago.
So, let's turn to good news for Collins. If you don't get taken in the first two rounds, it is far better to be an undrafted free agent than a third round pick. A third round pick's compensation is capped between $637,212 and $580,488, depending on where taken in the round. Collins will make $442,000 in the first year of his deal, with a 25% escalator for the next two seasons. He signed with the Cowboys for a deal worth a total of $1.7 million.
Most importantly, the money is fully guaranteed. Collins gets the short term UDFA deal, but it comes with the security of three years of income and the knowledge he will make the team, which is the biggest disadvantage of the UDFA contract (it's not guaranteed and you won't make the team anyway).
And unlike that third round pick, Collins will be able to renegotiate his salary after just the second year in the league. He will be a restricted free agent in year three, while draft played have to wait until year four.
The standard truism about rookie compensation is that all of the money is in the second contract. Well, Collins now gets to his second contract a full year before a drafted player. If Collins performs, he's probably only two years away from the big payday, as the Cowboys will buy up his free agent years.
Even better for Collins is that he got to choose where he wanted to play, and he chose perhaps the best offensive line in the league and an owner who loves to throw money around, particularly at his own players. This is one of the easiest places for Collins to perform, surrounded by a bunch of other guys who are really good, at one of the easiest places to get rewarded for playing well. Jerry Jones likes to reward loyal Cowboys.
It's not the perfect ending, but it is as good as Collins could possibly ask for. And heck, it's not even an ending.