FRISCO, Texas — An attorney representing Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins has filed a request for a restraining order and immediate injunctive relief to reinstate Collins from league suspension, according to a copy of the application obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
The request, filed in a local district court Wednesday afternoon, claims the NFL “clearly (misled) the arbitrator at the Hearing and the arbitrator relied on the NFL’s misrepresentations in reaching his Award decision.” The NFL, in an email to USA TODAY Sports, described the suit as “meritless.”
On Sept. 9, the NFL suspended Collins five games without pay for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. The suspension stemmed from a series of 2020 drug tests the tackle allegedly missed, each of which Collins’ representation says he had explanation for. The 2020 update to the league’s policy on substances of abuse mandates fines, not suspensions, as discipline for “unexcused failure to appear for testing” by players in Stage Two of the league’s substance-abuse program. Suspensions can, however, be handed down for “failure to cooperate with testing or clinical care.” The league acted on the latter presumption.
Collins has already served three games of his suspension and is currently eligible to return for the Cowboys’ Oct. 31 “Sunday Night Football” contest in Minnesota.
Before then, the 3-1 Cowboys host the New York Giants on Sunday and travel to the New England Patriots for an Oct. 17 game.
In Collins’ application for a temporary restraining order, temporary injunction and permanent injunction, he argues the NFL “materially misrepresented facts” during an Aug. 31 hearing in connection with Collins’ appeal of his suspension. In the league’s opening and closing statement, the application says, NFL representation noted Collins was “written up for a four-game suspension (and) warned that any future failures to cooperate would result in a suspension. So here we are again with another failure to cooperate.
“That is progressive discipline, four to five.”
The NFL again referred to a four-game suspension for Collins in its closing argument, according to the application, and Collins’ representation says the arbitrator factored this prominently into the decision.
“Mr. Collins previously had received a four-game suspension based on prior conduct,” the Sept. 9 award said. “The discipline imposed, a five-game suspension, is ‘additional’ to that and is the next logical progression from prior discipline. It is proportional and reasonable.”
Collins had not served a suspension since the Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2015. Discipline for a previous violation was resolved as a fine, two people with knowledge of the discipline told USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. One person with knowledge of the discipline said Collins had negotiated a four-game suspension received in February 2020 into a fine for eight game checks. He was warned, the person said, that future violation would prompt further discipline.
Collins subsequently missed tests in fall 2020 and showed up late, also attempting to bribe a test collector, ESPN reported and a person with knowledge of the interaction claimed. Thus when the January 2021 discipline came, Collins was ruled suspended for five games. Collins’ suspension was at one point reduced to two games before an arbitrator reinstated five upon Collins’ appeal.
On Wednesday, his representation argued his loss of salary—more than $273,529 in three games, with another $182,352 on the line in the remaining suspension term—is among the “immediate and irreparable harm” that warrants this action.
The NFL disagrees.
“This suit is meritless as determined by two jointly appointed NFL-NFLPA impartial arbitrators who have reviewed this,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told USA TODAY Sports. “We will seek to have this case dismissed as soon as possible.”
Collins has started 62 games for the Cowboys since 2015, including this season’s opener at Tampa Bay. He played 83 of 84 offensive snaps in the 31-29 loss; fewer than 24 hours later, his suspension was handed down.
Second-year undrafted free agent Terence Steele has since started in Collins’ place and earned substantial praise from coaches and owner Jerry Jones alike. Steele struggled as a rookie last season hastily thrown into action; offseason weight work to build his strength and refine his technique has paid dividends.
Offensive line dominance helped propel the Cowboys to 245 rushing yards in Sunday’s 36-28 win over the Panthers, who had limited their first three opponents to a league-best 45 rushing yards per game. In a Week 2 win at the Chargers, Steele helped neutralize Chargers pass-rushing star Joey Bosa. The Cowboys’ 420.8 yards per game rank third in the league, their 31.5 points per game fourth-best.
“The O-line is definitely clicking,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said Wednesday afternoon. “We got all the guys back healthy. Right now we don’t have (Collins) but you got young Terence (Steele) stepping up, making big strides from last year.
“All those guys, they’re playing really hard.”
Collins missed the entire 2020 NFL season as he underwent hip surgery.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.