DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys found themselves in a unique position after the 2015 NFL draft when first-round graded offensive tackle prospect La'el Collins from LSU fell all the way through the draft due to the unfortunate circumstances of a previous girlfriend of his being murdered, in which he had no involvement. As the most coveted priority free agent on the market, the Cowboys were competing with the other 31 teams for his services.
It was very akin to Power 5 college football when the best coaches in the nation are recruiting the best five-star talent some states have to offer. For expertise in that area, Cowboys owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones relied on the advice of a former coach of his to show him the way.
There has been no coach more successful at recruiting talent than Barry Switzer, who coached the Oklahoma Sooners to three national championships in his time in Norman from 1973-88. Switzer was also a graduate assistant on the Arkansas Razorbacks' 1964 national championship team, which Jones was a co-captain.
Jones knew he could turn to Switzer for the right course of action.
"The big thing was earlier I had just been talking to Switzer, who has spent thousands of hours recruiting, which is in fact what we were doing," Jones recalled on "Shan & RJ" Tuesday on 105.3 "The Fan" [KRLD-FM]. "So, I had called him and he said, 'Jerry, you let those boys work La'el and you let them have their night.' He said, 'You get with that momma, and that momma is the key to whether you're going to get him or not.'"
On May 7, 2015, as members of the Cowboys offensive line and captains Tony Romo and Jason Witten met with Collins, Jones was getting to know Loyetta Collins, La'el's mother, who works in the security profession and is a stalwart part of what Jones calls "a great family."
"So, that's who I spent my time with," Jones explained. "And then we got up the next morning and we had breakfast with her as well as later with La'el and his representation. So, the bottom line is it did work and we've been steadfast friends every year."
The Cowboys locked up Collins with a five-year, $50 million contract extension with $35 million guaranteed on Tuesday morning. Keeping Collins in Dallas helps the offensive line keep an enforcer element that was present during the 1990s Super Bowl runs with right tackle Erik Williams in the late 2000s with right tackle Marc Colombo, who is the current offensive line coach.
"He's done nothing but make his mark," said Jones. "He's the enforcer as Colombo so lovingly refers to him on the offensive line. He's got the attitude. He's got the thing, the kind of thing I call the Erik Williams attitude, or Colombo attitude, for our offensive line. So, it's good to get him agreed to for the long term.
"[We] certainly think he'll — wouldn't be surprised at all — think he will finish his career as a Dallas Cowboy. But I like everything about him. He's an outstanding athlete. He works hard. He has played some guard for us. But the main thing is he's stalwart there for us at tackle."
Collins has started in 46 of his 47 games played for Dallas. In 2015, Collins started at left guard in place of veteran Ron Leary, but lost the job in 2016 due to injury and Leary reclaimed the spot. After Leary left in free agency for Denver, the club kicked Collins to right tackle to replace the retired Doug Free, and the former 2014 All-SEC first-teamer has not missed a single start.
With La'el Collins locked up on a long term deal, how do you feel about the offensive line in Dallas over the next few seasons? Share your thoughts on the O-line with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.