Cowboys get last laugh over La’el Collins contract disaster with Bengals

La'el Collins, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
La'el Collins, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys’ braindead decision to trade Amari Cooper really overshadowed a successful offseason. Initially, the Randy Gregory contract fiasco and cutting La’el Collins — and thereby entrusting Terence Steele as the full-time right tackle — were almost universally panned by the fan base.

Though the Cowboys did try to retain Gregory, there’s no denying the team didn’t skip a beat without either Gregory or Collins.

Dorance Armstrong and Sam Williams combined for 12.5 sacks, 25 quarterback hits, and 20 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Gregory’s injury concerns followed him to Denver and he played just five games with three starts in 2022.

Transitioning to Steele and Collins, the former was utterly dominant before he went down with a torn ACL in Week 14, especially in the run game. He’s on pace to be ready for training camp, per Stephen Jones, and is knocking on the door of becoming Dallas’ right tackle of the future with a new contract.

Collins, on the other hand, has been pegged a “prime” release candidate by Bengals writer Paul Dehner of The Athletic.

Former Cowboys RT La’el Collins likely to be released by the Bengals

Since 2020, Collins has signed eight years and $71 million worth of contracts. He’s played 27 games and is on track to be released twice. Surely the Cowboys didn’t see cutting him working out in their favor to this extreme. Similarly, the Bengals likely believed they got a coup when they signed him last year.

At the end of the day, though, Dallas gets the last laugh.

While Collins was a force in the Bengals run game, he was wildly inconsistent in pass protection. Dehner notes in his article that Collins ranked 51st amongst tackles in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking grade and pass-blocking grade in true pass sets.

For context, Collins finished with a 44.3 pass-block grade, allowing 34 pressures, five sacks, and seven QB hits while committing eight penalties. That’s not the production Cincinnati expected when they signed the soon-to-be 30-year-old to a three-year, $21 million contract last offseason.

The fact the Bengals are reportedly ready to move on after one year speaks volumes about Collins’ durability, or lack thereof. He’s played a full season twice in eight years, and missed the entire 2020 season after undergoing hip surgery.

Throw in the fact he’s coming off a torn ACL and MCL, and you can understand why the Bengals are motivated to cut him loose. Doing so would save $6.1 million with $3.3 million in dead money. If they released him with a post-June 1 designation, it would save $7.7 million with a lowly $1.7 million in dead money.

The Cowboys don’t get every decision right. Few organizations do. Trading Cooper was unforgivable, and they’re still scrambling to rectify it.

But letting Collins go and making Steele the everyday right tackle was a stroke of genius even though we didn’t know it at the time.