When constructing an offseason to-do list for the Dallas Cowboys, where do you place offensive tackle? After defensive tackle? Maybe after the secondary? Maybe after the entire defense even? Wherever you decide to rank the need at OT, it may be too low given what has transpired over the past couple weeks.
Fresh off a Super Bowl where the world saw the best team in the league lose in convincing fashion, largely because of their abysmal play on the offensive line – offensive line concerns should hold added weight in Cowboys Nation these days. Add in the cloud surrounding Tyron Smith and La’el Collins’ uncertain status, and you might have a complete reorder of needs this offseason.
Offensive tackle may be the Dallas Cowboys biggest concern this offseason
La’el Collins’ entire 2020 “campaign” has been shrouded in mystery. After rumors he reported overweight and out of shape, Collins was held out of the first portion of training camp. In late August he got onto the practice field but his return was short lived and within a week he was placed on IR for a hip injury.
Now, did the hip lead to the poor conditioning or did the conditioning lead to the hip? That’s the $50 million question today (I’ll remind you, Collins signed a $50 million deal last offseason).
The question may seem trivial since the result is the same regardless of whether the chicken came before the egg or not, but the answer speaks to a bigger issue and could play a part in how much the Dallas Cowboys can trust Collins to be a part of the team in the future.
Last week, concerns about La’el Collins’ status took another turn when we saw his agent, Deryk Gilmore, drop a note on Twitter announcing Collins DOES NOT intend to retire this offseason. What made Deryk feel the need to publicly dispel rumors of premature retirement is unknown, but the fact he felt the need to official pay the idea credence speaks to the legitimacy of said rumor. Clearly someone who matters was concerned over the idea or Collins’ agent wouldn’t have felt compelled to dismiss the notion, right?
If Collins isn’t dedicated to the task and/or on track to be back 100 percent by training camp 2021, the Dallas Cowboys need to adjust their offseason priorities. Again, we just saw first-hand what poor offensive tackle play can do to an otherwise dominant team (see also: Super Bowl stat below).
It’s important to point out to all of those “defense wins championships” folks out there, Patrick Mahomes wasn’t the victim of a dominant defense, he was the victim of an inept offensive line. Tampa Bay didn’t even need to blitz him to make him the most pressured QB in Super Bowl history.
All of this Collins talk is concerning on its own merit but when you factor in the situation at left tackle, the situation becomes downright frightening. For the fifth consecutive year, Tyron Smith was unable to play a complete 16-game season. And the14 games he missed in 2020 are the most missed games of his career. It’s clear Tyron is trending in the wrong direction and like Collins, the 30-year-old All Pro is far from a lock entering the 2021 season.
I don’t think it would surprise anyone to see Tyron or La’el miss considerable time in 2021.
With the status of both starting offensive tackles in question, the tackle position may be the most important position to the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. Their back-ups at tackle last season were graded as the 76th and 78th ranked OTs in the NFL (out of 79).
If just one of the Dallas Cowboys tackles’ status was uncertain, it would be one thing. Teams can slide protection and chip block their way around a singular weak link on the edge. But two weak links? That’s inescapable.
The idea that one, or even both, of the Dallas Cowboys OTs could very likely miss significant time in 2021 is concerning to say the least. And if La’el Collins is resting on his laurels and coasting his way through his newly minted contract, that’s even more cause for concern.
Since Dallas can’t afford to adequately address OT in free agency they’ll be forced to address it in the 2021 NFL Draft. Based on previous years, OT is one position that typically requires a premium pick since most NFL starting OTs are selected in the first round of their respective drafts.
As much as we’d like the Dallas Cowboys to fix their historically bad defense from 2020, offensive tackle may be challenging it for the offseason’s top priority and be the favorite for Pick 10 in the upcoming draft.
If you’ll remember, back in 2019, La’el Collins was arguably the Dallas Cowboys best offensive linemen. Travis Frederick was a shell of his former self and both Tyron Smith and Zack Martin were playing injured. Collins was considered one of 2019’s biggest Pro Bowl snubs. He was that good.
If Tyron Smith bounces back and only misses his traditional 2 games (he’s missed two games or less in 8 of his 10 seasons) and La’el comes back healthy and in shape, the Dallas Cowboys will be set on the O-line. But if those two are in question, OT threatens to doom their season no matter how much they upgrade elsewhere.
Only the Dallas Cowboys know how much they trust La’el Collins and Tyron Smith to come back in 2021 and what they do in the first round will be very telling.