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BEHIND THE SCENES ON LA'EL COLLINSWarning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
So how close were the Dolphins to landing coveted offensive lineman La’el Collins?
Agent Deryk Gilmore told me that Collins said at one point last week that he thought he would like to be a Dolphin, and that Collins had narrowed his choices to Miami and Dallas.
“I thought I would be coming to Miami for games this season,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said even though no flight was booked, he and Collins intended to fly to Miami to meet with the Dolphins, with "the intent to sign," at around 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon before Collins told him at 10:45 a.m. Thursday that Dallas “is where I need to be.”
Among the deciding factors: Collins was immensely impressed with the Cowboys during his visit to Jerry Jones’ home on Wednesday night, and Collins has family in Dallas and Houston.
Before visiting Jones' home for dinner, Collins felt he knew the Cowboys from a football standpoint but needed to get to know them more as people.
So Collins, accompanied by his mother, broke bread with Jones, Jason Garrett, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, three Pro Bowl offensive linemen and Dallas' offensive line coach. Jones had set the stage for the visit by calling Collins directly the previous day.
The call and the visit had a profound effect on Collins.
“Those are guys who have been faced with challenges throughout life,” Collins said of the Cowboys. “I fit right in with those guys. So, when I take the field with those guys and this team, I fit right in."
Gilmore said: "He felt, 'I can win a Super Bowl here, and it could be one of the greatest offensive lines in history.'"
In retrospect, Gilmore said there’s nothing the Dolphins could have done differently.
The Dallas/Miami contracts were identical, and the fact Miami could offer him only a guard spot, not a job at tackle, wasn’t a deciding factor, even though Gilmore said Collins' preference longterm is to play tackle.
Dallas also might play him at guard initially, Gilmore said.
“He felt great about playing between Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert,” Gilmore said. “The Dolphins should be commended for how hard they fought. Miami was pulling out all the stops.”
That included e-mailing a video with Dan Marino and other Dolphins officials making a personal appeal for Collins to sign; a call from Stephen Ross to Collins’ agent; and a visit by four Dolphins players (Jarvis Landry, Kelvin Sheppard, Mike Pouncey and Anthony Johnson) to meet with him on Tuesday in Baton Rouge.
“The players coming was huge,” Gilmore said. “The players chartered the flight on their own.”
Gilmore did an outstanding job making the best of a difficult and unprecedented situation, one in which a projected first-round pick went undrafted because he was loosely linked to a murder investigation, though police always said he wasn't a suspect.
By telling teams Collins wouldn't sign if drafted after the third round, Gilmore and co-agent Darren Jones made it possible for Collins to pick his own team.
Gilmore said 29 teams expressed interest in Collins and that he and three other agents at Priority Sports were involved in the process of determining which were the best fits to present to Collins.
Numerous factors were considered, including cost of living, which teams had strong offensive lines, which teams had quarterbacks who could get the ball out quickly, among other considerations.
Initially, Gilmore and his colleagues split the most appealing teams into two lists of eight.
Collins was asked to rank them from a lifestyle standpoint, and the agents ranked them in the other areas that were important criteria.
One of the Priority Sports agents informed each team the exact financial terms that Collins would accept, which was the most an undrafted free agent could be paid (three years, $1.6 million).
The list of contenders was whittled to six; Gilmore declined to disclose the four besides Miami and Dallas, though those two were ultimately the finalists.
Gilmore asked Collins which of those six he would like to speak with via Skype. But Collins prefered visits and wanted to take only two: Miami and Dallas.
Though he visited the Dolphins before the draft, he ultimately never made it back to South Florida a second time. In the end, Jones and the Cowboys made a lasting impression.
"It was two great organizations, two great owners," said Gilmore, who credited Dolphins president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum, his former colleague at Priority Sports, for helping push Miami to the upper tier of contenders.
"Mike was extremely influential getting them to the forefront," said Gilmore, who predicted the Dolphins will be very successful luring high-end free agents under Tannenbaum's guidance. (They already have with Ndamukong Suh.)
"Mike worked so hard at this. I felt I let him down," Gilmore said. "The Dolphins are a class act. Stephen Ross is a class act."
But this was ultimately Collins' decision, one he made after sleeping on it Wednesday night.
"He was thinking maybe Miami and then he woke up Thursday and felt like '[Dallas] is where I need to be,'" Gilmore said.
Barry Jackson @flasportsbuzz