Friday's NFL: Cowboys' Collins banned 5 games over substance-abuse issue

Associated Press

Dallas — Dallas Cowboys right tackle La'el Collins was suspended five games Friday for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

The suspension came a day after Collins played his first game since 2019 in the Cowboys' opener, a 31-29 loss to defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay. Collins missed all of 2020 because of a hip issue that required surgery.

Collins won't be eligible until Week 8 against Minnesota, after Dallas' open week. The absence means the Cowboys will go at least 22 consecutive games without their top three linemen playing together.

FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2021, file photo, Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle La'el Collins (71) walks off the field during a preseason NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz.

Four-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, who played a career-low 10 games last year because of a calf injury, missed the opener after testing positive for COVID-19 five days before the game.

Left tackle Tyron Smith, a seven-time Pro Bowler, was limited to two games last season while undergoing neck surgery.

Dak Prescott threw for 402 yards and three touchdowns against the Buccaneers in his first game in 11 months after last season's gruesome ankle injury. But the Cowboys struggled to establish the run against Tampa, and will have another challenge without Collins.

Terence Steele played the most games in Collins' spot last season as a rookie, but the Cowboys also moved Martin to right tackle for a brief stint. Brandon Knight, who is on the COVID-19 reserve list with Martin, got most of the work at left tackle last year.

Collins was expected to be a high draft pick in 2015 out of LSU but wasn't selected after his name surfaced in the investigation of a woman's death. He was soon cleared and signed with the Cowboys as a free agent. Collins is on his third contract with the Cowboys.

NFL Kickoff game posts highest TV numbers since 2015

The NFL came into kickoff weekend looking for increased audiences over last season. After one game, the league is off to a strong start with the most-watched opener in six years.

Thursday night's 31-29 victory by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Dallas Cowboys averaged approximately 26 million viewers on NBC, Peacock and the NFL's digital platforms according to preliminary data from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics.

It is a 20% increase over last year's game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texas and the largest audience for an NFL opener since the Pittsburgh Steelers-New England Patriots game in 2015 averaged 27.4 million.

Of course, the 2020 season was played during the pandemic, with empty stadiums presenting a strange viewing dynamic, and many people's viewing habits changing.

The average of 24.4 million viewers on NBC makes it television's most-watched show since February's Super Bowl on CBS. The audience peaked at 25.4 million between 9:45-10 p.m. ET.

Even though the league's new television deal doesn't officially kick in until 2023, some elements are taking effect this season, including Week 1 doubleheaders on both CBS and Fox. The featured 4:25 p.m. ET games will be Cleveland at Kansas City on CBS and Green Bay facing New Orleans in Jacksonville on Fox. The game was moved out of New Orleans due to Louisiana still recovering from Hurricane Ida.

The league has allowed doubleheaders on both CBS and Fox during the final week of the regular season. That means both networks will have 10 doubleheader weeks as the league expands to 17 games over 18 weeks for the first time.

Sunday will mark the first time CBS has had a Week 1 doubleheader since 2015. For many years it couldn't air a doubleheader on the opening week because it was carrying the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which now is on ESPN.

Mike North, the NFL's VP for broadcast planning and scheduling, said the individual numbers for CBS and Fox might be down in the late window because they both have a doubleheader, but the overall number for the league could increase.

Last season, the Week 1 Sunday afternoon games averaged 18.1 million while the entire slate for the week averaged 16.3 million. The ESPN Monday night numbers for its openers should improve because it is only one game and is also being simulcast on ABC. The Baltimore-Las Vegas game will also mark the debut of the Mannings' (Peyton and Eli) megacast feed on ESPN2.

“I think we’re cautiously optimistic about the season overall, considering what we saw and what we had to face last season. But I don’t know if we’re going to put a, you know, a stake in the ground as far as predicting a number," North said.

Washington WR Curtis Samuel to IR, out at least 3 games

Washington is putting Curtis Samuel on short-term injured reserve because of a lingering groin injury, meaning the wide receiver will miss at least the first three games of the season.

Coach Ron Rivera confirmed Samuel's upcoming absence Friday. Samuel had been listed as “did not practice” on the mandatory injury report each of the previous two days, and it was looking increasingly unlikely he'd play this weekend in the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Samuel missed all of training camp with the groin injury and stint on the NFL's COVID-19 list. Rivera insisted surgery was “not on the table” and that the team wanted to give Samuel time to get healthy after pushing him too much this week.

“We’re just trying take a little bit of pressure off him in terms of his rehab program,” Rivera said.

Labor Day was Samuel's first practice since the groin injury happened during offseason workouts. The 30-year-old wideout tried to practice Wednesday but appeared to aggravate the injury during individual work and was held out of team drills.

Washington signed Samuel to a $34.5 million, three-year contract with the hope he'd add a different dynamic to an offense that struggled last season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick this week said Samuel will “be a big part of what we do” when healthy.

The Chargers are facing their own injury question with running back Austin Ekeler, who is questionable due to a hamstring injury after being a limited participant in Friday's practice. Coach Brandon Staley said Ekeler tweaked the hamstring during Monday's practice, which caused him to miss Wednesday and Thursday.

Last season Ekeler injured his hamstring during the first quarter of a Week 5 game against Tampa Bay and proceeded to miss the next six games.