Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills OL La’el Collins

Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills OL La’el Collins

After kicking the tires late last year, the Buffalo Bills decided to ink OL La’el Collins to a one-year deal on Thursday afternoon. According to the terms of the deal, Collins can earn up to $6.25 million implying it is an incentive-based contract. 

Collins had stops in Dallas and Cincinnati with plenty of playing time but several setbacks. This includes several notable injuries and resulting surgeries that have cost him considerable time recently. 

Below is La’el Collins publicly reported injury history and potential concerns.

Injury History

2015 Dallas Cowboys

High-ankle sprain, Week 16, missed 1 game.

Collins suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills that had him later listed as doubtful. He missed the final contest in a 4-12 season. 

2016 Cowboys

Right toe ligament tear, Week 3, went to IR, missed 14 games. 

Collins suffered a right toe ligament tear that was so significant that it required season ending surgery. This was possibly a plantar plate tear. 

2017 Cowboys

Ankle injury, Week 5, missed 0 games.

Collins popped up on the injury report with an ankle injury and was able to practice in full but was still listed as questionable. 

Back injury, Week 11, missed 0 games.

Collins suffered a back injury in Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles. He did not miss any snaps that game or the remainder of the season but was questionable for every game left in the season.

2018 Cowboys

Left ankle injury, preseason, missed 0 games. 

Collins was kicked in the left ankle early in practice towards the end of training camp in late August, leaving practice. Having it heavily taped, he noted that if it were a regular season game, he would have not left the game. 

2019 Cowboys 

Groin injury, preseason, missed 0 games.

He suffered a groin injury in practice just prior to Week 1 but did not miss any significant time. 

Back injury, Week 4, missed 0 games.

Collins appeared on the injury report with a back injury and had a questionable designation heading into the game.

Left knee MCL sprain, Week 5, missed 1 game. 

Playing through his back injury, Collins went down in Week 5 due to a left MCL sprain that caused him to miss the following week. Despite being questionable upon returning, he was able to play in 100 percent of snaps. 

Knee injury, Week 11, missed 0 games.

Collins left late in the win over the Detroit Lions with a knee injury that was potentially an aggravation of the earlier season injury. However, this injury was also due to Dak Prescott falling into him. Once he returned the following week, he did not miss any snaps. 

2020 Cowboys

Car accident with neck injury, preseason. 

Collins was involved in a car accident in the preseason after the other driver failed to yield to the right of way. This led to him suffering a neck injury that was described in other reports as a stinger. 

Hip injury/surgery, placed on IR, missed entire season.  

Shortly after his car accident, Collins was placed on injured reserve to begin the season not due to the neck injury but a hip injury. Considering he was placed on injured reserve and not on the non-football injury list implies the hip injury was pre-existing from football. 

After spending three weeks on injured reserve, the decision was made to undergo season-ending hip surgery. Based on the timeline, it’s possible that he underwent a FAI repair

2021 Cowboys

Stinger, preseason, missed 0 games.

Collins suffered a stinger in practice that caused him to require further examination by training staff but he did not leave the field. This injury lingered for two weeks but did not affect his availability for Week 1. 

Substance-abuse suspension, missed 5 games.

Collins dealt with a substance-abuse suspension that was the result of several missed tests and an accusation of bribing the testing official. He took it to federal court to fight the initial two game suspension but was increased to five after losing the case. He missed Weeks 2-6. 

2022 Cincinnati Bengals

Back soreness, preseason, started season on NFI. 

After signing with the Bengals in free agency, Collins started training camp on the non-football injury list due to back soreness. He spent almost three weeks there before being removed after passing a physical. 

Once the season began, Collins missed practice again for a back injury suggesting the injury continued to linger.  

Left knee ACL, MCL, PCL tear, Week 16, went to IR, missed 4 games.

Collins suffered a severe left knee injury playing the New England Patriots in Week 16, tearing three of the four ligaments, ending his season. 

2023 Bengals/Cowboys

Did not appear in any regular season or postseason contests.

Collins started the season on the PUP list with the Bengals before asking for his release in early September. 

He continued to rehab on his own before signing with the Dallas Cowboys practice squad ahead of the playoffs. 

Injury Analysis

After missing just one game in college at LSU, Collins has had a very rough go of it in the NFL. He has missed 37 games due to injury over the last four seasons dating back to 2020 with two of those seasons missing the entire year. 

Prior to 2020, the only really notable injury was his toe surgery that caused him to miss 14 games. Upon returning, he showed the ability to be available and return to a consistent level of performance. 

However, his hip surgery cost him all of 2020 but thankfully there are excellent rates to return to play in the NFL. He validated that with his return in 2021.

Finally, his severe left knee injury cost him the entirety of 2023 which wasn’t a surprise considering when he suffered the injury and that it was multi-ligament. Many of these injuries take over a year to fully return to play and many players don’t return at all. It’s promising that he was able to pass a physical not only in Dallas but also in Buffalo when he agreed to the contract. 

His knee has been cleared medically and should at least hold up. If he is going to miss time, I’d be concerned his back begins to act up as this has been an intermittent issue throughout his career.

Collins has shown the ability to play at both guard and tackle throughout his career and looks to be depth or as a swing tackle. In the event that Spencer Brown is unavailable, Collins could step in in a pinch. His presence shouldn’t really worry any of the other offensive lineman on the roster outside of Tommy Doyle who is coming off his own severe knee injury and may not even be available to start the season. 

I liken the Collins signing to when the Bills signed OL Forrest Lamp back in 2021. The potential was there but Lamp couldn’t stay healthy and was eventually released. Collins is a lottery ticket who could return to a somewhat steady level of play at replacement level as veteran depth. If he can stay healthy, the Bills don’t have a lot committed and he can earn his money. If he can’t, they can likely move on easily. 

Had he signed the three-year, $22 million contract that he agreed to with the Bengals in 2022, this would be an awful signing. But a one-year deal that appears to be incentive-laden is pretty fair. He has started 86 out of a possible 89 games when he is healthy, but the recent durability issues are notable. 

This signing isn’t a needle mover by any means. 

I’m not a fan of the injury history but how the contract is structured and the remaining potential is appealing. This is a low-risk signing that could pan out if he can stay healthy. Hopefully La’el Collins can offer steady depth for the Bills during the 2024 season. 

Top Photo Credit: CBS Sports