Just one short week ago, LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins was expecting by the end of the week to be leaving Chicago as a first round draft selection headed for his new team’s headquarters. Instead he left the Windy City early headed back to Baton Rouge with the intention of speaking to law enforcement regarding an ongoing murder investigation. While it has been made clear that Collins is not a suspect in the investigation, the simple connection was enough to make him radioactive as both a potential draft pick and as an undrafted free agent. Once Collins meets with authorities this week it’s expected that he will be fully cleared in the case and multiple teams will be beating down his front door to sign him to a free agent deal making him one of the biggest steals in draft history.
The only fortunate part of Collins’ situation is that he will have the power to choose where he goes to begin his career. While he has unfortunately lost millions of dollars through all that’s happened, he will have the opportunity to select a situation that best fits him for the long-term. For a number of reasons, the Saints would be his ideal situation.
First and foremost, signing in New Orleans would provide an opportunity for Collins to start from day one. Following the first round of the draft, head coach Sean Payton stated that he didn’t see Andrus Peat, Terron Armstead or Zach Strief making the move from tackle to guard. That would leave only Tim Lelito that Collins would have to beat out for the starting job at left guard. With his significant talent, Collins should have no trouble locking up the starting role. If he lives up to expectations, he could hold on to that job for the next decade. Considering the reverse structure of the Saints’ offensive line, Collins would be able to play his way into a long-term contract that would pay as well as any other team would give him at tackle.
While many teams can offer money and longevity to a player of Collins’ talent, faith and belief in a player are just as important. When the news of Collins’ connection to the case first broke in the middle of draft week, many teams took him completely off their draft boards. When asked about Collins after the first night of the draft, Payton stated that he believed Collins would still be drafted, quite possibly on day two during rounds two and three. While most teams were privately bailing on the former Tiger, Payton was publicly proclaiming that he felt Collins had a bright future in the league.
Along with everything else, the Saints can offer one thing no other team can. Collins was born and raised in the Baton Rouge area. It’s where he played his high school and college ball. He undoubtedly has plenty of friends and family in the area and it’s where he has a life built. With New Orleans only an hour away, Collins would be able to pursue his professional career without having to uproot his entire life with a move to some other random NFL city. It also wouldn’t hurt that he would be close enough to home to have plenty of friends and family in the stands at each of his home games surrounded by a fan base that already knows and loves him from his college days.
There are a lot of factors that go into a player’s decision on where he wants to play when the choice is his. While any team can throw money at a player, it’s the intangibles that set them apart from each other. The Saints can offer a long-term future along with a set of intangibles that other teams simply can’t. That’s why New Orleans is the ideal fit for La’el Collins.