La'el Collins is hellbent on not going down without a fight. The Dallas Cowboys starting right tackle was suspended in September for five games after the league deemed he violated the substance abuse policy, but that was simply the first thread of what's now become a pile of accusations being hurled in both directions. After having already seen his first appeal of the suspension fail, Collins filed another and is now also taking the matter to a court of law, where he hopes for better luck.
The 28-year-old filed suit in Collin County -- where the Cowboys headquarters in Frisco, Texas sits -- claiming the league suspended him for missing tests of a substance no longer covered by the new collective bargaining agreement (2020). The move comes in response to allegations that Collins attempted to bribe the league's drug-test collector, an allegation Collins adamantly denies, sources tell CBS Sports.
The matter will be settled in court, but apparently not in Collin County, with the suit having now been moved to federal court for resolution, as noted by legal analyst Darren Heitner. The league issued a statement on the matter this week, but it's one that shrugs off Collins' efforts at an overturned/reduced suspension.
"This suit is meritless as already determined by two jointly appointed NFL-NFLPA impartial arbitrators who have reviewed this," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, via ESPN. "We will seek to have this case dismissed as soon as possible."
The lawsuit also alleges the NFL misled the arbitrator responsible for the initial appeal, claiming Collins had previously been suspended four games for violating the substance abuse policy. Collins, however, has never been suspended by the NFL prior to now. Initially, the league reportedly fined Collins for missed tests in early 2020 before readying to hand him a five-game ban last November for another round of missed tests, but the NFLPA was said to have negotiated a reduction to only two games before the arbitrator in question awarded the NFL the full five-game ban.
Additionally infuriating Collins' camp was the fact the league announced the five-game suspension without the matter being completely resolved, a move it views as a breach of NFL/NFLPA policy.
"To Mr. Collins, this case presents the difference between a career in the NFL and a potential career-ruining suspension," the lawsuit reads. "The harm to him could not be clearer."
It's a similar arc to what happened with running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2017, with Elliott ultimately losing his war with the league and subsequently serving his suspension later in the year after a round of restraining orders against the league eventually dried up and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got his initial wish, despite a mountain of evidence that Elliott shouldn't have faced suspension. In the aftermath, owner Jerry Jones was fined $2 million for assisting Elliott in his defense against the league. That is to say even if Collins does land a federal restraining order, there's no guarantee he won't be forced to sit one final game later in the season.
Collins is hoping for a better outcome, and while Jones likely has his back in private, the Hall of Fame owner is keeping his hands off of the wheel this time around -- at least publicly. Additionally, the NFLPA is not listed as a joint plaintiff in the lawsuit, meaning Collins and his representation are essentially standing on their own against Goodell, the NFL and the NFL Management Council -- the latter three listed as defendants in the case, per Daniel Wallach, legal analyst for The Athletic.
The former case with Elliott and the current case with Collins share another tie as well, Wallach points out, with Judge Amos L. Mazzant having been assigned to Collins' lawsuit. That name might ring a bell, considering it's the judge who initially granted an injunction to halt Elliott's suspension before it was later vacated and transferred to New York state court, where Elliott ultimately lost his plea.
As it stands, Collins will miss the Week 5 contest against the New York Giants, marking the fourth absence of his five-game suspension, and while he's been allowed to return to the team facility to train and attend meetings, he's not allowed to be on the practice field until the Cowboys begin preparing to face the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 31.
But with only one more game remaining on his five-game ban, which also means another missed $75,000 game check, Collins feels wronged and doesn't want to wait another day to put his helmet back on, and so he's exhausting every possible avenue to make his case. He wants to return as early as Week 6 against the New England Patriots, and it's up to a federal judge to decide if it happens or not.