I don’t have anything new to add to the story of La’el Collins and his murdered ex-girlfriend. It’s a tragedy whether or not he was involved; all indicators seem to say he was not, which adds a layer of unfairness to how Collins was treated in this situation.
What I do want to discuss is the silver lining for Collins: He is now free to sign anywhere as an undrafted free agent, and since he is only required to sign a three-year contract, can begin negotiations on his next deal a year sooner.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at some ideal landing spots for Collins, keeping two things in mind:
- I want a spot where he can come in and start from day one. He’s talented enough to do so and this would maximize his earning potential for his next contract, obviously a major concern now that he doesn’t have the guaranteed payday that comes with being a high first-round pick.
- Along that same vein, reports are suggesting that he wants to go somewhere he can play tackle for that reason, and I agree– both that he should and that he’s capable of it.
- By most accounts, Collins would fit better in a gap system than in a zone system. While I can’t be 100% certain on what everyone will run or the degree to which that’s true, I’ll keep it in mind.
All depth charts and mention of starting lineups and rosters use information taken from the terrific work done at ourlads.com.
Tampa Bay had virtually nothing on the offensive line this year (aside from what remains of Logan Mankins), and addressed that problem by drafting Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Collins is better than both; I think the line would be more successful with Collins at left tackle and Smith at right. (Much better than the Collins they had there last year, for sure.)
Tampa is installing a youth movement on offense, and protecting Jameis Winston is priority number one. (Winston has reportedly lobbied Collins to sign there.) This would make the line look something like, say, Collins – Mankins – Evan Dietrich-Smith – Marpet – Smith. A vast step up from where they were last year.
Detroit has built a surprisingly strong offensive line with good depth. The one question mark is right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who acquitted himself reasonably well last year but is still nowhere near the talent Collins is. This would solidify Riley Reiff, Collins, and Larry Warford at three of the line spots, while Laken Tomlinson, Travis Swanson, and Manny Ramirez compete for the other two.
I couldn’t name who Oakland’s tackles are, outside of Menelik Watson (and I’m not even sure he’s a starting-caliber player). After looking it up, I realize the starters are Donald Penn and Austin Howard. Good Lord. This team needs Collins.
It becomes a lot easier to kick D.J. Fluker inside to guard if Collins is there to play right tackle. Assuming last year’s third-round pick Chris Watt can play center (as he’s penciled in to do), a line of King Dunlap – Orlando Franklin – Watt – Fluker – Collins is pretty good. Melvin Gordon would like it.
Because, duh. I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I read the other day the best description I can think of Carolina’s line: “Carolina is starting possibly the only two offensive tackles in history who are more famous for something other than being good offensive tackles.”
Rex Ryan met with Collins in Baton Rouge, so the interest is clear. The “maybe” comes from whether or not Collins would get a legitimate chance to start at tackle. The Bills only have three tackles on the roster, and only Cordy Glenn should really be starting in the NFL. (Seantrel Henderson may get there someday; I think Cyrus Kouandijo’s knee is shot.) They’re thick at guard with the signing of Richie Incognito and the drafting of John Miller. (I don’t think Incognito should be back in the league, but even without him, a line of Glenn – Miller – Eric Wood – Cyril Richardson – Collins isn’t bad– or, if Richardson really stinks, kick Glenn inside and make him one of the best guards in the league.)
A very similar situation to Detroit’s: A passable right tackle and a rookie drafted to help solidify the interior line. Collins replacing Jordan Mills would be a solid upgrade.
Brandon Scherff ain’t gonna work at right tackle. Just move him inside already and add Collins. Adding Scherff and Collins to Trent Williams would give this team three legit offensive linemen, instead of one.
The real question here is if the team is ready to move on from Gosder Cherilus. Never a world-beating tackle, Cherilus’ microfracture surgery a few years ago may have ended whatever claims he had at having top-flight tackle skills. Enter Collins to step in and replace him.
Collins could also shore up in the interior line, where the Colts have linemen in quantity but questionable quality, but we’re looking for a spot he can play right tackle (or even left tackle, if the team is weak enough there).
Close but no cigar
With yet another serious knee injury, I think the likelihood that Sam Baker’s career is toast is depressingly high. The current listed starter at right tackle is Ryan Schraeder– “Who?” was my reaction as well. Collins could start at right tackle right away.
Unfortunately, new OC Kyle Shanahan is known for using a zone-blocking scheme, and as long as we’re projecting Collins to be a better fit for a gap-based offense, that precludes him signing here.
Word is that LSU alums Jarvis Landry and Anthony Johnson have been trying to recruit Collins. I’m sure Miami would love to have a tackle of Collins’ caliber as insurance in case Branden Albert’s knee injury is too severe for him to return to his previous level of play. Unfortunately, I doubt Collins is going to want to go anywhere where he’s expected to start at guard (neither Albert nor Ja’Wuan James are kicking inside for him), and even less so that he’ll want to go somewhere he might not start right away.
I think he’s better than anyone they drafted, but they still drafted a bunch of lineman, and they’re going to play them. To be honest, I don’t think Collins should go to a team with as little seeming idea what they’re doing as the Rams (but that’s a story for another column).
I’m sure other teams would be interested in La’el Collins. I thought he was a tremendous prospect, and would likely be an upgrade somewhere on the line for any team. But he’s going to have particular needs when choosing the right fit for him, and I think these teams are best poised to offer him what he wants.