Terence Steele being handed the Cowboys’ starting job at right tackle was one of the major developments of the 2022 offseason. The third-year OT will face heavy scrutiny given the circumstances of his ascension, and Dallas’ faith in him will lead to heavy criticism if he doesn’t perform.
The Cowboys released veteran La’el Collins in March with an early June-1st designation. The $10 million in cap space created by Collins’ exit only just became available to use this week.
Calling La’el’s departure a “cap move” when it happened seems suspect and that’s been validated by Dallas’ lack of aggression in free agency throughout 2022. It’s much more likely that Collins was let go due to a broken relationship with management and coaches after his drug test scandal last year and concerns for his long-term viability with his hip issue.
That said, La’el might still be here if not for Terence Steele. Dallas’ confidence in Steele certainly helped lay the foundation for Collins’ release, giving the team an acceptable next man up if they weren’t able to find any superior options during the offseason.
Any faith the Cowboys have in Terence is certainly not blind. Despite being an undrafted free agent just two years ago Steele has started in 27 of 33 possible games thanks to Collins’ and Tyron Smith’s injury issues the last two seasons. He’s played more than any other OT on the roster.
Throughout his many snaps Steele’s proven that he’s far better right tackle than left. Like many OTs who lack that versatility, he’s a better prospect to be your starting RT than covering both positions in the swing role.
Despite all of the previous starting work as a heavily-utilized backup, Terence has never entered a season as the official starter as he probably will in 2022. That could be a huge boost to his performance, being able to focus on one spot on the line and get even more work against the 1st-team defense.
While Terence Steele is the obvious favorite to be starting right tackle it could get interesting. The Cowboys have two intriguing prospects in Josh Ball and rookie Matt Waletzko, both entering the league with higher perceived potential than Steele did in 2020.
Of course, NFL history has proven that where you were drafted has limited value in projecting future performance. Being 4th and 5th-round picks don’t make Ball and Waletzko better players than the undrafted Steele, especially in 2022, but at least create an interesting potential dynamic.
Thankfully, whoever starts still gets to play next to Zack Martin and won’t be asked to cover Dak Prescott’s blind side. Taking risks a right tackle is far more palatable than left (assuming you have a right-handed QB) and doesn’t create the same anxiety going into the season.
But honestly, the Cowboys may not even see Terence Steele as a risk at this point. The team’s been high on him going all the way back to Week One of his rookie season.
With La’el Collins on IR, Dallas gave Steele the start in the season opener over veteran Cam Erving. Despite bringing Erving in to be their swing tackle the Cowboys decided to go with the undrafted rookie in a surprising move.
That game, and many more to come that year, came with highs and lows. At times Steele held his own and others he was a liability, eventually leading to Zack Martin having to play at right tackle for a brief spell.
Things obviously improved enough over the next season-plus that Dallas is now willing to give Terence a critical starting role. But La’el Collins’ odd exit, however unfairly, will hang over the young tackle to start the year and at any point when he struggles.
Hopefully Terence Steele doesn’t give anyone cause for complaint.