While Dak Prescott’s injury was certainly the biggest blow to the roster in 2020, La’el Collins and Tyron Smith missed even more time and were huge part in the Cowboys’ struggles. As our Position Preview series continues, what should Dallas do this offseason to avoid being held hostage again by the offensive tackles?
When healthy, Collins and Smith just might be the best pair of bookends on any NFL offensive line today. Tyron has been one of the league’s best left tackles for years now and Collins emerged in 2018 as a standout player on the right side.
Unfortunately, health has become a recurring issue for this duo. Tyron Smith has missed at least three games every season from 2016-2019 and last year missed 14 after neck surgery. La’el Collins missed all of 2020 with a troubling hip injury and surgery that some players have struggled to fully recover from.
This leaves the Cowboys in a tough spot; do you hope for the best with your starting tackles’ health or do you start preparing for the worst?
2021 Offensive Tackle Contract Statuses
- Free Agents
- Cameron Erving (U)
- Greg Senat (R)
U = Unrestricted, R = Restricted, E = Exclusive Rights
The Cowboys tried to bolster their OT depth in 2020 by adding veteran Cameron Erving, who replaced previous swing tackle Cameron Fleming. But Erving missed 10 games himself dye to injury and wasn’t especially good when he did play.
Brandon Knight was the best backup tackle for the Cowboys and should be a leading contender for the swing job in 2021. He is competent enough on either side of the line but still not a guy you’d want playing most of the season ideally.
Last year showed what happens when both starters go down. Dallas was forced to play a liability like Terence Steele far too often and eventually had to slide Zack Martin over to tackle rather than keep the undrafted rookie on the field.
True, no NFL team is probably stocked enough to handle the number of offensive line injuries that the Cowboys faced in 2020. But with neither Collins or Smith being reliable at this point, it leaves Dallas with a glaring concern this offseason.
Plus, given Tyron Smith’s age and contract situation, the Cowboys may want to make a move now to provide immediate depth and prepare for future change.
As has already been written about and likely will remain an offseason topic, Smith’s contract gives the Cowboys one of their best opportunities to clear cap space in 2021. Tyron’s issues with staying on the field the last five seasons only increase the possibility of Dallas making a move.
I stated in the linked article above that I don’t believe the Cowboys will make this move now. They’d still have a lot of dead money to contend with and would create a major hole at left tackle that they’re not ready to fill.
But next year, when Tyron’s a year older and Dallas can save about $10 million in cap space, cutting Smith becomes more sensible. It also gives the Cowboys 2021 to prepare for that move by perhaps drafting an eventual replacement.
If a top offensive tackle prospect is available at Dallas’ 10th overall pick then it wouldn’t be a bad choice. This player could potentially start right away, allowing La’el Collins to go back to left guard, or would at least upgrade the OT depth for 2021 as he’s groomed for the future.
Even if the Cowboys are fine with Brandon Knight as the 2021 swing tackle, do they really see him taking over a starting job in the near future? And how confident is the team in La’el Collins’ long-term health prospects? These are the driving questions which could push Dallas towards an OT prospect this April.
Of course, we’d rather see that pick go to someone who provides clear, immediate help at a position like defensive tackle or safety. But all it takes is one injury to either Collins or Smith for that rookie OT to suddenly look like a very wise investment.
Given recent history, that one injury should probably be anticipated and planned for.
The Cowboys can’t let this position undermine the offense like it did in 2020. We saw the effect on the run game and in costly turnovers even before Dak Prescott went out, and of course it made life much harder for Andy Dalton and other backups quarterbacks throughout the year,
Even if no backups can completely replace studs like Tyron Smith or La’el Collins, Dallas should invest some resources this offseason to create as much insurance as possible at a critical position.
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Other Cowboys 2021 Position Previews
DE | DT | LB | CB | S
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