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La’el Collins to Return to the Cowboys

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La’el Collins‘ lengthy free agency stay will end Tuesday. The visit Collins made to his original NFL home earlier today will result in a reunion. The Cowboys are bringing the veteran offensive lineman back, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero report.

This will be a practice squad deal, but it will be Collins’ first agreement since the Bengals cut him from their reserve/PUP list in September. Collins had met with the Jets, Giants and Bills (last week) since that separation but did not find a new gig. The Cowboys, who employed him from 2015-21, will step in and greenlight a return.

Initially signing Collins — a first-round-caliber talent who fell out of the 2015 draft due to an off-field concern at the time — as a UDFA, the Cowboys moved him from guard to right tackle early in his career and gave him two extensions to reward him for work at his second NFL position. Collins has been a right tackle regular for many years, though speedbumps have emerged during his career. This year qualifies, after the Bengals reconfigured their O-line without him in their first-string plans.

Collins operated as Dallas’ full-time right tackle from 2017-19 and again in 2021, though a PED suspension marred the final season of his first Cowboys stint. The team will sign off on a second stay, and Collins will represent insurance for a Cowboys team that has dealt with some injuries up front. Left guard Tyler Smith came out of Dallas’ Week 17 game with a full plantar fascia tear, ESPN.com’s Todd Archer notes. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin have dealt with maladies this year as well, though the former has logged 12 starts and has made a bigger contribution to this year’s Cowboys effort than last season’s.

Given a big-ticket extension this summer, Terence Steele — who suffered a torn ACL late last season — has not recaptured his pre-injury form just yet. Pro Football Focus ranks Steele in the bottom 10 among tackle regulars this season (75th), well off his quality 2022 performance that garnered the five-year, $82.5MM extension. The Cowboys plugged in Steele, a former UDFA, to succeed Collins last year — after the team designated the latter as a post-June 1 cut. Collins, 30, is set to return as insurance to close out what may still end up a lost year for the veteran blocker.

Tyler Smith has not been ruled out for Week 18, though Collins has not played guard in many years. The Cowboys slid the LSU alum to right tackle in 2017, and the Bengals did not consider kicking him back inside to accommodate the Orlando Brown Jr. addition. Jonah Williams replaced Collins at RT this season. Collins has 86 starts on his resume but has not yet bounced back from the ACL tear he suffered in Week 16 of the 2022 season. The Cowboys made decent use of P-squad addition Jason Peters last season; Collins now resides in the veteran insurance role.

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