The text message that flashed across La’el Collins’ phone on Sunday was the question Cincinnati Bengals fans kept asking throughout the weekend. And it was from the most prominent person in the city.
“Deal done?” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow asked Collins, the inquiry posed with multiple questions marks. Collins had a simple answer.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, your new bodyguard is in town,'” Collins said in a video statement released by the Bengals on Sunday. “Nobody is touching you.”
The Bengals on Sunday signed Collins, a former Dallas Cowboys tackle, to a three-year contract. Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the deal is worth up to $30 million but, in reality, is more of a two-year, $20 million deal worth up to $22 million. The third year was added to help prorate the deal and spread out Cincinnati’s cap charge, sources told Schefter.
Cincinnati, fresh off its first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years, has now added offensive linemen Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and Collins during the NFL free-agency signing period to help protect Burrow, something the Bengals had issues with, especially in the postseason. Cincinnati ranked 30th in pass block win rate last year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats and ESPN Stats & Information research.
In the video statement issued by the team, Collins cited his relationship with Bengals assistant coach Frank Pollack for Cincinnati being a “perfect fit.”
Pollack oversaw the Cowboys offensive line when Collins entered the league in 2015. Pollack met with local media in Cincinnati on Friday, when the offensive lineman was at Paul Brown Stadium during his visit. Pollack said he had a “great relationship” with Collins during their time in Dallas and said he had the disposition the Bengals sought in free agency.
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“He definitely fits the mold of a ‘glass eater,'” Pollack said. “Just watch his tape. That’s clearly evident. He is nasty and he was a lot of fun to coach.”
The Cowboys released Collins on March 17 and designated it a post-June 1 move that will save them $10 million on their salary cap. The Cowboys had trade discussions with teams at the NFL scouting combine and had given Collins’ agents, Deryk Gilmore and Peter Schaffer, the ability to seek a trade. The New England Patriots had interest, just as they did in Amari Cooper, sources told ESPN’s Todd Archer, but Collins’ contract was an issue.
Collins signed a five-year, $50 million contract extension in 2019 that carried guaranteed money into this season. However, a five-game suspension last year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy voided the $6.48 million in guarantees.
Over the past two seasons, Collins missed 21 of 33 games to injury or suspension. He did not play in 2020 because of hip surgery and started 10 of the 12 games he played in 2022.
Collins signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after circumstances saw him go from a potential first-round selection to not selected at all after his name was connected to a murder investigation. The Cowboys signed him after a dinner at Jerry Jones’ house in which he was joined by coaches and soon-to-be teammates.
He began his career at left guard but missed 13 games in 2016 because of a toe injury that required surgery. In 2017, Collins moved to right tackle and started 47 of the next 48 games. He had his best season in 2019, but the hip injury has hurt his productivity since. Collins caps a busy start to the Bengals free agency that could help the Bengals have as many as four new starting offensive linemen for the season opener in 2022.
“You look at the guys that are around that helps build this team to what it is, I mean, what other team would you want to be a part of?” Collins said in his video statement. “I’m just excited. And I can’t wait to get to work.”
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