Dallas Cowboys starter La’el Collins is going head to head with the NFL Zeke style as he fights in court to try to temporarily block a suspension imposed by an NFL arbitrator for his violation of the League’s substance abuse policy.
Collins was suspended five games and has served three of them so far, for missing drug tests. But Collins claims the substance he missed tests for is no longer covered by the substance abuse policy which was amended in 2020.
Collins camp says two of the misses were when Cowboys assistant coach Markus Paul died, and when Collins had to attend a relative’s funeral.
It is alleged by the league that Collins had seven “incidents” related to testing. His side claims he missed seven tests, which the league labeled failures to comply.
In defense, Collins’ rep says he passed 180 drug tests in the last 18 months and also says the policy is not clear on a specific punishment for missing tests.
Collins is also fighting back against allegations that he bribed the league’s drug collector, which he denies.
Collins’ case was moved to federal court as he challenges the suspension, hoping a temporary restraining order will allow him to play this weekend. If it’s granted it would be hard to appeal it before Sunday’s game since it’s late on Friday.
“This suit is meritless as already determined by two jointly appointed NFL-NFLPA impartial arbitrators who have reviewed this,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said to ESPN, citing that the NFL will try to get the case dismissed immediately.
As we have seen in past court battles, specifically involving Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott when he was suspended several games after the NFL decided on its own, absent any criminal charges, that he committed domestic violence against a girlfriend and in the case brought by former Patriots QB Tom Brady related to Deflategate, the courts do not like to get involved in re-deciding NFL arbitrations involving player discipline. Despite going through a roller coaster of a legal process that spanned over a year, both cases were kicked out of the court system, with Judges determining that the arbitration process, which was collectively bargained for between the league and the NFLPA governs.
While Collins’ temporary restraining order hearing is before the same Judge (Amos Mazzant) who ruled favorably in the Zeke case, staying his suspension, it’s unclear if Judge Mazzant will rule the same way. A temporary restraining order is extremely difficult to get, and requires a showing that irreparable harm would result without it and granting it is in the public interest.
“To Mr. Collins, this case presents the difference between a career in the NFL and a potential career-ruining suspension,” the lawsuit reads. “The harm to him could not be clearer.”
But a TRO also requires a showing that the movant would succeed on the merits of the case down the line. The fact that Zeke did not succeed on the merits in his case, and Mazzant’s decision in that case was ultimately overturned, could weigh heavily against Collins today. The standing precedent from Brady and Elliott’s cases, even though they were decided in different jurisdictions, could result in no TRO. Plus, Judge’s don’t like to have their decisions reversed on appeal once, let alone twice.
One possible factor that could weigh in Collins’ favor is if Mazzant, a Dallas based Judge, is a Cowboys fan.
Collins lawsuit alleges that the NFL told the arbitrator that Collins had been suspended four games for violating the substance abuse policy in the past, a fact that is untrue. The arbitrator then listed that previous suspension in the decision. Collins was originally fined for missed tests in early 2020 but the NFLPA reportedly negotiated a reduction to two games before the arbitrator awarded a full five-game ban.
Needless to say, Collins is furious over this decision and the untruths he has labeled in the arbitrator’s decision. He was also upset that the suspension was announced before the matter was fully discussed or resolved behind closed doors by the NFL and NFLPA.
Collins, who signed in 2015, worked his way up to being a starter with the team.
When Doug Free retired, Collins moved to right tackle and was named the starter to begin the season. On July 25, 2017, Collins signed a two-year, $15.4 million extension through 2019 and on September 3, 2019, Collins signed a five-year contract extension.
Click here for Updates from Inside the Courtroom where League of Justice’s Frank Cawley is exclusively reporting.