Will the Cowboys move La’el Collins?

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04: Cameron Fleming
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04: Cameron Fleming /

The Cowboys are bringing in some pretty curious talent to The Star in Frisco this offseason. Here’s what they’re likely planning to do…

The Dallas Cowboys are finally dipping their toes in the free agent waters this week. One name drawing headlines is free agent offensive tackle, Cameron Fleming. Fleming, the former 4th round pick out of Stanford, hits free agency with high expectations. The coveted tackle should garner plenty of interest this spring and will be looking to cash in on a very successful 2017 campaign.

The question around Cowboys Nation is what are the Cowboys’ expectations regarding Fleming and does this signal a move for the returning right tackle, La’el Collins.

We knew the Dallas Cowboys needed upgrades on the offensive line this offseason. The unit widely considered to be the best in the NFL in 2016, slipped considerably in 2017. With the backbone of the team struggling, fans saw how significant the trickledown effect could be these Cowboys.

Since the offense couldn’t control the clock, it forced the defense to stay on the field. The Cowboys obviously intend to correct that this offseason. Because as we all know – it starts with the offensive line.

Cameron Fleming is hitting the free agent market at just the right time. At the start of the 2017 NFL season he was no better than the 3rd string right tackle. Fast-forward to the end of the season and Cameron Fleming was the Patriots starting right tackle in the Super Bowl.

In all, Fleming played five regular season games and the last two playoff games. It’s telling that even though LaAdrain Weddle was healthy, the Patriots coaching staff stuck with Fleming as the starter late in the playoffs.

Pro Football Focus rated Fleming as the Patriots top offensive tackle in 2017. In 191 regular season snaps he gave up only four sacks and 10 total pressures. At 6’5” 323lbs and 34” arm length, Fleming is exactly what you’re looking for in a tackle. And at only 25-year-old, he’s a budding young talent who is clearly in the ascent of his career trajectory.

The downside is he’s likely to cost a pretty penny and may subsequently command a starting job.

What’s to be of La’el Collins?

If the Dallas Cowboys sign Fleming as a free agent (or any other respectful free agent option at tackle, for that matter), does that mean La’el Collins will move?

I don’t think they even know the answer to that question. For much of last season, Collins was the certifiable weak link on the line. His transition was more bumpy than even I admittedly expected and it hurt Dak Prescott and the passing game as a result.

But as the season matured so did Collins’ play. By the end of the season, Collins was the best linemen not named “Zack”. Because of this, the Cowboys will likely be very hesitant to move their newly-minted tackle.

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Should we be worried more about Tyron Smith?

Indeed. If the Cowboys break the bank to bring in Fleming (assuming his market value is as high as many believe it to be), it may say more about Tyron Smith’s health status than La’el Collins’ immediate future. Smith is fresh off multiple back injuries and nothing can prematurely end a career quicker than a back injury.

I named the offensive line the most important unit to correct this offseason and I’m sticking to that. If overpaying for a proven swing tackle is the cost of ensuring success then it must happen.

It’s likely the interest in Cameron Fleming is two-fold: The Cowboys want to upgrade the entire unit of the offensive line and if that means adding Fleming and moving Collins – so be it. It also probably means they are worried about their ability to survive another injury to Tyron Smith and are willing to pay a premium to suppress that worry.

May the best five win

At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the best five players on the field. If Tyron Smith is healthy and Cameron Fleming proves to be every bit as good as Collins on the right edge, expect a move for Collins inside to guard. If a suitable solution at guard is found and Collins still proves to be Fleming’s superior, then Fleming is the swing tackle.

The Cowboys may be throwing more attention and resources at their offensive line than you or I would like, but they’re doing it for a reason.

Next: Who and What the Cowboys need at safety

The Cowboys are intent on upgrading their offensive line and that means finding and fielding the best players available. They are neither committed to leaving Collins as a right tackle nor are they committed to moving him to guard. It’s about finding the best upgrade for the money and they are determining that at this moment.