The La’el Collins saga ended in fitting fashion Thursday.
An NFL owner was pushed to tears, and a professional football team held a 40-minute news conference for an undrafted rookie signee.
Yes, this truly was unprecedented.
Collins, the former LSU offensive lineman and Redemptorist standout, signed with the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday afternoon following a meeting with team officials during an overnight trip to the city.
He agreed to a guaranteed three-year, $1.65 million contract, according to multiple reports, and he’ll get a larger signing bonus than most undrafted free agents.
“I had the opportunity to choose between 32 teams,” Collins said Thursday at his news conference. “I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy.”
The signing ends a weeklong saga regarding Collins and his association with a pregnant woman who was shot to death — news last week that turned a sure-fire NFL draft first-round pick into one of the most hotly sought-after undrafted rookie free agents ever.
Dallas ended professional teams’ recruitment of Collins. The Cowboys flew him to Dallas on Wednesday night for dinner at owner Jerry Jones’ home and then sealed the deal Thursday morning by signing the 6-foor-4, 305-pound All-Southeastern Conference left tackle.
“The situation is different than anything we’ve seen before,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s inspirational.”
The club held a news conference in Dallas with Collins, his mother, Jones and Garrett — a public ending to a nine-day, drama-filled situation. Collins spoke to a room full of reporters, his first public comments since news broke two days before the draft last Tuesday that Baton Rouge police wished to speak with him about the slaying of Brittney Mills.
“I’ve not had this experience in the NFL,” said Jones, who was brought to tears during the news conference. “We normally wouldn’t have this type of announcement for an undrafted free agent.”
Collins was passed over during the 256-pick, seven-round draft last week after news surfaced in an ESPN report linking him to Mills.
Collins this week has distanced himself from the ordeal that scared off so many NFL teams from picking the projected top-10 prospect. Police said Collins was not a suspect after meeting and questioning him Monday about the April 24 shooting of Mills.
After taking a paternity test, Collins was ruled out Wednesday as the father of Mills’ child Brenton, who was delivered after her death but died a week later.
Jones and Garrett told reporters in Dallas that they’re convinced Collins had nothing to do with Mills’ death. Garrett said Collins will play guard or tackle.
“The way he’s handled it is pretty remarkable,” Garrett said.
“I never once was bitter,” Collins said. “I could have easily been mad at the world. I never dropped my head; I knew what I stand for. ...
“This is going to be the best offensive line in NFL history. Mark my words.”
Meanwhile, the investigation into the double homicide of Brittney and Brenton Mills continues. Detectives have no suspects. La’el Collins’ father, Davis Phillips, was questioned by detectives Thursday, but he is not considered a suspect, Baton Rouge police told The Advocate.
“(God) tested my faith,” Collins said. “I can’t explain the emotions and the feelings that my family had to endure.”
Amid all of this, Collins heard from nearly every NFL team over the past few days and met with representatives of at least three of them — the Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. After all, a player that LSU coach Les Miles said could have gone as high as No. 6 in the draft was on the open market.
The Cowboys didn’t wait long to pluck him, and it’s a good thing they tied the knot. CBSSports.com reported that Collins had a trip planed later in the week to visit the Dolphins.
Collins said Jones called him “a couple of nights ago,” jump-starting the process of getting him to Dallas. Many of the Cowboys’ offensive linemen and quarterback Tony Romo dined with Collins at Jones’ mansion Wednesday night.
“These guys have embraced me,” Collins said. “They’ve embraced my family. I’m ready to give them everything that I have.”
That will start Monday. Collins will report to Dallas then, according to DallasCowboys.com.
Undrafted free agents are eligible for a three-year deal that pays $435,000 in 2015, $525,000 in 2016, and $615,000 in 2017. Also, bonuses are limited to about $87,000 for all undrafted free agents combined.
A source said Collins received a $21,000 signing bonus, about double what most undrafted free agents get.
“It’s not even about the money,” Collins said. “I never played the game for the money. I played the game because I love the game. Just to be here, I’m still getting paid. And at the end of the day, it was way more than I was getting in college.”
Still, he likely lost more than $5 million in signing bonus and contract money over the ordeal.
Miles, who met with a group of reporters Thursday, said Collins could have been picked as high as No. 6 in the draft.
“Two lives were lost. It’s tragic. One of the people who knew the mother was put in harm’s way,” Miles said, referring to Collins, “and done so in a manner that did not reflect good judgment and long view of the issue.”
Miles lobbied for the NFL to add Collins to the supplemental draft hours before news broke of his signing with the Cowboys. Miles said he was rebuffed in attempts recently to contact NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the situation.
“I called him and I was told, ‘It’s damn near impossible for me to get through,’ ” an emotional Miles said.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv. Ben Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.