Because of numerous and major injuries across the Cowboys’ offensive line, backups Brandon Knight and Terence Steele played heavy roles for Dallas in 2020. But as those starters get healthy and some new talent joins the team, how good are Knight and Steele’s chances to even make the 2021 roster?
La’el Collins missed all of last season corrective surgery for a hip issue. Tyron Smith was done after just two games with his ongoing neck issues. Even the veteran signed to play swing tackle, Cam Erving, only appeared in six games with his own injuries.
This led to undrafted rookie Terence Steele playing in all 16 games and starting 14 of them in 2020. Brandon Knight, who also dealt with some minor injuries, had nine starts and 13 games played.
But now Dallas is expecting to get Collins and Smith back healthy and hopefully for full seasons. They also added free agent Ty Nsekhe to take over as the swing tackle following Erving’s departure.
If these three veterans all fill their projected roles to start the 2021 season, where does that leave Knight and Steele?
Knight has been a good find from the undrafted ranks for the last few years. He was surprisingly solid in relief work for La’el Collins in 2019 and again showed some good things last year. He also has versatility with experience at guard and tackle.
Steele is clearly someone’s pet project on the coaching staff, being named the starter in Week One even with more experienced players available. Dallas continued to ride with him for several weeks through struggles, but eventually started playing Zack Martin at tackle when Terence’s weaknesses were too glaring.
The two prospects are almost the same age; Knight just turned 24 and Steele will be joining him in June. And while Brandon has an extra year in the NFL on Terence, they’re not that far apart on actual playing time.
This is all pointing to a true roster battle in the coming months; likely just one spot on the 53 for one of these two players.
Dallas isn’t going to keep more than four offensive tackles on their roster. In fact, some teams only keep three between the two starters and a trusted swing tackle.
But given the health issues with Collins and Smith, plus Nsekhe turning 36 in October, the Cowboys will likely want one more OT asset secured on the 53-man roster. Given the exposure that both Knight and Steele have had from playing, you could easily lose them from the practice squad.
2020 gave us some new rules when it came roster math, such as being able to call up two practice squad players for use on gamedays. We don’t know yet if those protocols, which came about in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will carry over into the 2021 season.
In a way, that provision could lead to one or both of these players having a worse chance of making the official roster. If Dallas can put both on the practice squad and be able to use one of them in games, it mitigates the poaching risk while also making providing insurance for Collins, Smith, and Nsekhe.
To be fair, nothing says that Nsekhe has a firm grip on the swing tackle job. There should be some good competition there with these young prospects, and Nsekhe’s minimal one-year contract doesn’t guarantee him a spot in 2021.
And if the Cowboys wind up spending the 10th overall pick on an elite rookie like Penei Sewell, then the offensive tackle landscape changes dramatically.
At this point it’s hard to where Brandon Knight and Terence Steele fit in 2021. They should definitely get chances to compete, but we can’t be sure who their competition will be until after the draft.
But as it currently stands, Knight and Steele will probably be fighting each other for a spot on next season’s roster.