Immediately following the seventh round of the NFL Draft each year, teams begin snapping up players who were not selected during the three-day Draft. These undrafted free agents fill out the 90-man rosters for the teams, but have a long road ahead of them as they try to convince the team that they are worth of a position on the in-season 53-man roster, or a slot on the respective team's practice squad.
Well, it is a long road if you are not a first-round talent who fell out of the Draft due to legal issues. If you fall into that category, and there is only one player who does, you move from just another player coming into the rookie minicamp to a player for which a team will pull out all the stops and actively try to recruit.
Former LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins is one of the biggest prospects to ever hit the undrafted free agent market. Expected to be a top ten Draft pick last weekend, Collins fell off the draft boards for NFL teams when he was connected to a murder investigation in Louisiana. The situation was severe enough that Collins left the Draft in Chicago so he could return to Baton Rouge to talk with the East Baton Rouge police department who are investigating the murder of Collins' ex-girlfriend, Brittany Mills. Mills was shot when she opened the door at her home on Friday night. She was eight months pregnant, and doctors attempted to save the baby, but he died over the weekend after being successfully delivered. Collins may have been the child's father.
Police have stated Collins, who reportedly has not had contact with Mills since September, is not considered a suspect in the murder, but police have not officially cleared him of it yet, either. It is that uncertainty that has kept teams away from Collins, though the unofficial recruiting has started.
On Monday, Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan happened to be in Louisiana, coincidentally near Baton Rouge, where the set up an "unsanctioned" dinner meeting with Collins. According to NFL rules, teams are not supposed to meet with undrafted free agents if the player has withdrawn from school and the school has not completed their final exams for the academic term in which the Draft occurred. LSU's finals are this week, according to the school's academic calendar.
Not wanting to see a division rival get the upper hand in landing Collins, four Dolphins players chartered a jet from Miami to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to go spend the day with Collins. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, former teammates of Collins at LSU, and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who also played at LSU but left for the NFL a year before Collins' arrival at the school, all met with Collins. Included in the group was Dolphins Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey.
(Sheppard, Collins, Pouncey, and Johnson pose for a picture during their visit in Louisiana. Landry was not pictured.)
Along with the tweet above, Cauble, who is the sports directors for WBRZ in Louisiana, answered some question on Twitter about the meeting:
@Robi2184 Nope, leaving him here. Also, Jarvis said that the Phins didn't foot the bill for the flight. I said, BS, said no for real.— Michael Cauble (@MichaelCauble) May 6, 2015
@DeJoy83 Wouldn't guess. Police investigation, could take two weeks, could take four. NFL rookies report next weekend I think.— Michael Cauble (@MichaelCauble) May 6, 2015
How much of an impact the recruiting trip for the Dolphins players will have on Collins' ultimate decision is not known. Under NFL rules, undrafted free agents must sign a three-year contract, with the maximum salary around $1.5 million, which means it is going to be things other than money to determine where Collins will land. Miami can offer him nearly guaranteed playing time immediately, either as a guard or as a right tackle with last year's first-round pick Ja'Wuan James sliding inside to guard, and they can point to the state's lack of an income tax as a benefit to playing in Florida.
Collins is said to have interest from nearly every NFL team, so, if the police clear him in the murder investigation, he will be able to pick where ever he feels the most comfortable as he moves forward with his NFL career. Hopefully the idea of playing with his friends and former teammates in South Florida makes him comfortable.