Cowboys RT La’el Collins finds ‘vindication’ in loss of suspension appeal
Collins hoped to be fined, not suspended, for several missed drug tests and an alleged failed bribe attempt in 2020.
Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle La'el Collins (71) and Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77) watch a drill in progress during the first day of training camp at Dallas Cowboys headquarters at The Star in Frisco, Texas on Friday, August 14, 2020.(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)
A Texas federal judge on Tuesday denied Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins’ final attempt to overturn a five-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, a decision he made while expressing “serious concerns” about the NFL’s conduct and an independent arbitrator’s interpretation of that policy.
With that language, the 25-page decision offered some moral vindication for Collins, whose legal team has argued his infractions warranted a fine, not suspension, in accordance with the 2020 policy agreement.
Last year, Collins missed several drug tests, never testing positive with the exception of the painkiller codeine following his October 2020 hip surgery, his lawyer Peter Schaffer said. On Nov. 12, according to court transcripts, Collins was accused of attempting in vain to bribe a specimen collector $5,000 and then $10,000 when the two men were alone in the collection room inside the Cowboys’ training facility at Ford Center at The Star.
Collins will complete his five-game suspension Sunday, sitting out against the New England Patriots. He forfeited $430,556 in salary across the five weeks. An arbitrator upheld the suspension on Sept. 9 following an Aug. 31 NFL appeal hearing.
“I think he feels vindicated that he stood up against, as David did against Goliath, and went toe-to-toe with the greatest sports enterprise of all-time and proved to a federal judge that he was in the right,” Schaffer said. “And [he proved] that he did things the right way. But for the high hurdle that would be required to get a federal judge to overturn the arbitrator, he wins.
“Had this judge been the judge at the hearing, he would have been playing four weeks ago. There is some vindication there, both personally and professionally, that he was in the right the whole time. We take some comfort in that.”
An NFL spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Collins can resume football duties next Monday when the Cowboys begin their bye week, and he’s scheduled to return to game action Oct. 31 at the Minnesota Vikings. Terence Steele, a second-year lineman who has impressed throughout Collins’ absence, will start again Sunday in his place.
Dallas (4-1) has won four straight games.
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant delivered the Tuesday decision.
Within the document that The Dallas Morning News obtained, Mazzant first questioned the NFL for how it framed a previous discipline negotiation for Collins’ missed tests to the independent arbitrator and secondly the arbitrator for using Collins’ alleged bribe attempt as grounds to suspend Collins five games. Bribe attempts are not explicitly defined within the substance abuse policy as subject for suspension.
Mazzant noted in his conclusion, however, that he’d be overstepping to undo the arbitrator’s ruling.
“The Court takes no comfort in enforcing an arbitration award that upholds a punishment that, arguably, is not permissible under the parties’ CBA,” Mazzant wrote. “But, just as the Court cannot embrace its own opinion as to the validity of Collins’ claims or the out-of-bounds nature of the NFL’s disciplinary decisions, the Court cannot disregard an arbitrator’s reasonable construction of the parties’ agreements.”
Collins has denied that the bribe attempt occurred. According to a transcript of his appeal hearing, he characterized the incident as a miscommunication and “joke gone wrong,” saying that teammates joked about the bribe inside the locker room. The arbitrator, James Carter, ruled that the bribe occurred, forming the basis for Collins’ suspension. He missed the entire 2020 season while recovering from hip surgery. He said in the appeal hearing that he was on crutches for 14 weeks and needed to be driven to the Cowboys’ facility in order to be drug tested.