La'el Collins signed a five-year, $50 million extension with $35 million in guaranteed money just before the start of the 2019 season. He responded by being one of the best right tackles in the NFL and some even thought he was a Pro Bowl snub. However, life for Collins on the football has been a nightmare since then.
Collins showed up out of shape for the 2020 season and didn't play a single snap after having hip surgery. He started against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of this season but was suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy for missing several drug tests. The initial suspension was knocked down to two games, but after accusations of Collins bribing a drug tester, a federal judge upheld the NFL's penalty of five games.
Despite missing significant time and losing around $2 million, Collins stands by his decision to fight his suspension.
“Just for me, personally, I felt like I had to, just because it was kinda unfair, being a guy that didn't fail any drug tests last year,” Collins said. “The bigger picture was, I didn't feel like I did anything wrong. I missed a few tests here and there, but to everything that came along with that, I just felt like it wasn't fair. But it is what it is now. I felt like I had a good case. But, it didn't shake out that way. At the end of the day, I fought for what I believed in and the pieces fell where they fell. But just looking forward to getting back and playing football and being a good teammate and helping the guys wherever I can.”
In the absence of Collins, Terence Steele took over duties at right tackle and played well to his credit. Once Collins was set to come back many felt he would go right back to being a starter, but that didn't happen. Steele was named the starter and Collins took reps at tackle and left guard in practice in a reserved role. Collins played left guard his first two seasons with the Cowboys (2015, 2016) but has played right tackle ever since.
This Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Collins will be available as a backup, which he has no problem with.
“I'm a team player. I'm all about the team,” Collins said. “In a way, I felt like I did everything I could to avoid any suspension or anything. That was my whole intention on fighting it. Sometimes, things just don't work out the way you want them to. But you can't control that. What I did in the meantime was work out, focus on my craft and help the guys how I could and when I could. I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the way Terence is playing. He's playing his ass off. He shows up to work like a pro every day.”
This certainly won't be a permanent thing with Collins seeing as he is the superior player in comparison to Steele. However, the Cowboys thinking it appears is that he has to earn back his starting role.