CHICAGO – As the draft picks slipped by Thursday night, it became apparent that no NFL team was going to step in and catch LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins. Instead he plummeted, right out of the first round, due to concerns over an investigation into the shooting death of a pregnant woman who may have been Collins' ex-girlfriend.
Collins has not been named a suspect, but there's no more doubt: the nightmare hanging over him is real and has become very damaging. The concern over an open case – and the fact that police want to speak to Collins about the woman – has already cost him millions of dollars. Considered by many to be a high-to-mid first-round pick, nobody is sure when or if Collins will be chosen in this draft. How far he falls was a non-stop conversation Thursday, as teams, agents, media and fans have all marveled at what could be the worst case of negative circumstance in the history of the draft.
Out of those conversations, an interesting question emerged: If Collins falls into the deeper reaches of the draft or goes unselected, should he sit out 2015 entirely? When and if he's cleared of any involvement in this murder case, should Collins take a step back and reapply for the 2016 draft, rather than take a massive financial hit and move forward?
It's a difficult question that can't be fully considered until Collins' status in the investigation is resolved. And as of Thursday, there continued to be no information that would quell the concerns of NFL teams. What teams, agents and media know is that the woman, Brittany Mills, was shot to death on April 24. She may have been Collins' ex-girlfriend. Whether Collins is the father of Mills' baby has not been made public. And the police want to speak to Collins, but still have not done so, despite him leaving the NFL draft on Thursday in an effort to cooperate and clear his name.
All of this left a void of information for NFL teams, which were scrambling for information. Two team executives removed Collins from their draft boards until the situation was resolved, they told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. Both of those executives also said they had virtually no information that hadn't been reported in the media, and that they had been in touch with NFL security for guidance. When one executive was asked what information teams have been seeking specifically, he said "anything [we] can get."
Nobody seems to have any clarity on when Collins' situation will be resolved. And that led to the worst possible scenario Thursday, with Collins' draft stock suffering a brutal hit as teams passed on taking any chances. And in some respects, he wasn't alone. Teams also completely passed on Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory and Oklahoma/Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham – two first-round talents who both have been dogged by off-field concerns.
But while Gregory and Green-Beckham have had their issues largely fleshed out, Collins remains a massive question mark with no information in sight. That has translated into the belief that Gregory and Green-Beckham will be drafted, possibly in the second round on Friday, while Collins will twist in the wind until something substantial clears the concern of teams. Meanwhile, he'll continue to lose massive amounts of money. At some point in the freefall, the financial numbers would seem to dictate that Collins would be better off sitting out 2015 and re-entering the 2016 draft.
Yahoo Sports spoke to four top-tier agents who weighed in on that question Thursday. And the results were split, not to mention complicated. Two agents said they would have Collins play in 2015 regardless of his draft position, including if he goes unselected. Two others said that if Collins went any lower than the fourth round, they would hold him out of football and have him re-enter the 2016 NFL draft.
As it stands, Collins was denied entry into the league's supplemental draft, which was sought by his camp on Thursday. So his options are limited. Because Collins has always been considered an "eligible" entry into this draft, he can't withdraw, regardless of poorly-timed circumstance. He must go through the process. That means teams have been left hanging, waiting for some kind of "all clear" signal from a murder investigation.
Stick it out in 2015
This school of thought depends on a multitude of factors. First, Collins would start his earning clock at his current age, meaning he would conceivably reach his full earning power over whatever the length of his career is. He would take a financial hit initially, but not lose one of his earning years by sitting out a season. And theoretically, that earning year would come at the end of his career at a far later date, when his salary could be at a premium.
Sticking it out would also bypass a host of troubling "what-ifs" that could arise if Collins were to sit out a season. For example: What if Collins gains weight, gets hurt or can't maintain his lofty status heading into the 2016 draft? What if the offensive tackle class (or the overall draft) is stronger in one year, effectively pushing down his status? What if teams that are enamored with Collins lose their infatuation or fill their tackle needs in the 2016 round of free agency?
Essentially, the argument of sticking it out is that Collins gets his career moving, doesn't lose an earning year, and actually gains a shot at a lucrative extension one year earlier (because his contract as a non-first round pick will be four years instead of five). Retaining his final career year and signing an earlier extension could both recoup some lost money.
Reapply in 2016
This school of thought is basic economics and protection. Collins has thus far lost a massive amount of guaranteed money. For example, the No. 10 pick in this draft (where Collins could have been selected) is expected to get around $14 million in guaranteed money. Even if Collins was selected as the first pick in the second round, that guaranteed chunk is expected to be roughly $5 million. So Collins arguably has already lost as much as $9 million in guaranteed money. If he goes lower? That cash diminishes. And if he's undrafted altogether, he effectively loses almost the entirety (save for maybe a few million dollars) of what he could have earned had he been selected in the first round.
And while Collins would lose at least one earning year by sitting out a season, the "reapply" crowd suggests that year (and getting to free agency a year earlier) still may not recoup what could be $10 million in lost wages. Better to protect Collins and do the work to maintain his high draft status into 2016.
The proponents of reapplying suggest that if you can maintain Collins' high status, it makes no financial sense to allow him to play under a contract in 2015.
So who is right? Depending on how low Collins goes, we may get to see this answer played out in real time. If the last 48 hours are any indication, NFL teams are not coming to the rescue in this instance. Not after the brutal public relations run for the league over the last year.