As recruiting trips go, this one by the Miami Dolphins was brilliant.
The team sent receiver Jarvis Landry, center Mike Pouncey and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday afternoon to convince La’el Collins the Dolphins are a good team to play for, South Florida is a great place to live and, hey, if you don’t have anything to do with murdering your ex-girlfriend, we’d love to have you.
Well, maybe the last part of that message wasn’t delivered quite so directly.
But by the time the players flew from Opa-locka Airport to Baton Rouge Metro and back, after a nearly five-hour delay in Louisiana, no less — the Dolphins had put themselves near the top of the list of teams showing interest in Collins.
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The Dolphins sent players to see Collins at time he feels he needs it.
The team smartly sent players Collins would feel comfortable with because Landry and Johnson were former teammates, and Pouncey is a Miami team leader, a fellow offensive lineman and a fine communicator.
And the club did this aggressive work without exposing its organizational heads — coach Joe Philbin, executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum or general manager Dennis Hickey — to breaking NFL rules. That’s something the Bills might not have avoided when Rex Ryan visited Collins on Monday.
(I cannot vouch for this with complete certainty, but the Dolphins deftly avoiding an NFL rules issue by not including the brain trust sounds like work from executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte, who really gets league legalese stuff like this).
All this while a vocal majority of fans approved and encouraged the team to “Geaux get Collins!” from Louisiana State University and bring him to South Florida.
This is the stuff of intrigue and one-upmanship that has the added benefit of showing the Dolphins are aggressive and serious about being a better team in 2015.
But all this aggressiveness, enthusiasm and strategic thinking must come with one unmistakable and unmovable line that must not and cannot be crossed now:
The Dolphins should not sign La’el Collins until he is completely cleared of participating in or planning or knowing in advance of a double murder in Baton Rouge.
Collins, you see, is a gifted player who might have been drafted in the recent NFL Draft’s top-20 selections were it not for the fact police wanted to speak to him about his ex-girlfriend Brittney Mills, who was shot to death in her apartment April 24. An unborn baby the pregnant Mills was carrying, which possibly belonged to Collins, also died.
Collins currently is not a suspect or even a person of interest, according to police. But the investigation is not complete.
The mere shadow of a crime scared off all 32 NFL teams from drafting Collins. This is the right approach because in an atmosphere where domestic violence of any sort is by some teams considered a first, second, and third strike against a player, the possibility of having someone on the roster in any way involved in another human being’s homicide is unthinkable.
So most teams have either resolved to ignore Collins altogether or show no interest until he is absolved of all involvement — either as perpetrator or planner — in the crime.
The Dolphins and the Bills?
Not so much.
Both needing offensive line help — the Dolphins at guard, the Bills at tackle and guard — are being overtly aggressive. They both hope they’re setting themselves up to get Collins if and when he’s cleared.
But here’s the thing: Collins is not as of this writing in the clear.
The police investigation might take some time. And the Dolphins had better wait for that work to be fully done before taking the next step.
This point needs to be made because the Dolphins have run to the forefront of teams wanting Collins and are doing so without speaking on the issue publicly. No, an NFL team rarely talks to its fans or community when it wants to sign a player.
But no other player the Dolphins have signed or even courted in recent memory had a murder investigation hanging over his head.
So not one step further must be taken on Collins until the Dolphins can guarantee themselves, their fans and the South Florida community that they are not bringing to town someone involved in a shooting death.
The hope here is that the Dolphins the past few days have been doing extensive fact finding. The hope is they’ve just been proactively building a relationship to be used to its fullest extent once Collins is proven to be completely uninvolved in this sad and heinous act.
But nothing more until he is exonerated.
Everyone should be able to agree on this.
Last Friday, after Collins went undrafted in the first round, I asked a high-ranking Dolphins official whether the player had killed anyone. Yes, it was a very direct question. But teams spend thousands of hours investigating players to know such things.
“I don’t think so,” he answered.
The right move now is to know so before moving forward.