La’el Collins took the NFL to court last week and now knows his fate. The Dallas Cowboys starting right tackle was issued a five-game suspension following the regular season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for violating the league’s substance abuse policy — spawning a messy back-and-forth between Collins’ camp and the NFL front office. Having already lost his first appeal, Collins took the matter to court in Collin County, where Cowboys headquarters in Frisco, Texas, sits, before seeing it moved to federal court for adjudication. The verdict finally arrived on Tuesday, and the honorable Judge Amos Mazzant III upheld the punishment on Collins.
He wasn’t expected to travel with the Cowboys to play the New England Patriots in Week 6, but this makes it official. Collins will miss that contest and his five-game suspension will then be complete, and he’ll be allowed to return to the practice field following the Week 7 bye and take on the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8.
All told, it was a long shot for Collins to win the judgment he was seeking.
Mazzant, who ruled in favor of granting running back Ezekiel Elliott an injunction in 2017 prior to it being overturned and the case moved to federal court in New York, found fault in both the arguments of Collins and the NFL. Collins, whom the NFL accused of attempting to bribe the league’s drug-test collector — an allegation Collins adamantly denies — argued the league overstepped its power in handing him a five-game suspension, additionally considering he’d never been suspended before. On this point, Mazzant scolded the league and agreed with Collins.
“Court has serious concerns regarding the NFL’s conduct,” Mazzant wrote in the final judgment, via CBS Sports legal analyst Amy Trask. “The NFL did not give itself authority under its contract to subject a player to suspension as a type of ‘additional discipline’ for deliberately evading or avoiding testing”
Collins didn’t escape Mazzant’s ire, though, scolded for the timeliness of the lawsuit — considering Collins had already served three games of the five-game suspension and was virtually assured to miss a fourth by the time he filed suit — along with other notable issues in the suit, as explained by Trask; via Ajit Narasimhan of LeagueOfJustice.com:
The standard to meet in order to obtain an injunction or temporary restraining order in either federal or state court is a high bar to meet. A party must show: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a substantial threat that he will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted; (3) the threatened injury outweighs any damage that the injunction might cause the defendant; and (4) the injunction will not disserve the public interest.
Judge Mazzant was not convinced that Collins met all, or in fact any, of the above noted metrics which are required in order to issue an injunction.
Mazzant’s comment toward Collins bears this out.
“At this point in the litigation, based on the evidence presented and arguments made, the Court finds that Collins cannot meet the burden of demonstrating a substantial likelihood of success on the merits for any of his claims,” Mazzant wrote.
In other words, Collins waited too long to take legal action in a court of law, in Mazzant’s view, and additionally found Collins’ case didn’t carry enough water to warrant an injunction or overturn. But Mazzant, in issuing one final side eye to the NFL, made it known that, once again, he believed they overstepped.
“The Court takes no comfort in enforcing an arbitration award that upholds a punishment that, arguably, is not permissible under the parties’ [collective bargaining agreement],” he 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.”
It’s a succinct conclusion to a fight that devolved into toxicity over the past several weeks, if not months, with both parties walking away with a black eye issued by a federal court judge. The bigger punch comes to Collins, however, considering the five-game suspension will cost him around $2 million for 2021, while also voiding all future guarantees on his five-year, $50 million extension signed in 2019 — amounting to more than $9 million in total lost revenue.
Collins has long returned to the Cowboys facility to continue training, which is permissible under the rules of his suspension, but was banned from being on the practice field. Head coach Mike McCarthy notes the starting right tackle “looks good” physically, and team exec Stephen Jones, while joining owner Jerry Jones in having justifiably high praise for the play of backup tackle Terence Steele in the absence of Collins, made it clear on Tuesday that the club believes Collins can step back into his starting role immediately.
“Obviously, La’el is a great player for us,” Jones said to 105.3FM the Fan. “That will obviously be addressed when he gets back, but we feel like he will be ready to step in. Five weeks is a long time. The good news is he has been around the building around now for two weeks and this will be his third week.
“We’ll welcome him back and it will be great to have him back.”