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Potential Cowboys 2021 roster concern: Offensive tackle

Most just assume the starters will be back and all will be fine. But what if it doesn’t go that way?

Divisional Round - Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams
How sure are we he’ll be back?
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Injuries were considered the biggest issue that torpedoed the 2020 season for the Dallas Cowboys. The return of so many players this year is cited by many as a reason for optimism. That may be a mistake. In particular, one position group could be a ticking time bomb that could put the team once again behind the power curve. Last season, neither of the planned starting offensive tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, made it very far. Collins never played a snap, and Smith only made it two games before going on IR for the season. With effectively a full year for both to recover, it is hoped, even expected, that they will be back in the saddle this year. But not by everyone.

Bobby Belt’s opinion deserves consideration since he is a field producer for NFL Network and co-hosts the ‘Boys and Girl podcast with highly-regarded Cowboys reporter Jane Slater.

That does not mean he is correct about this, but he explained in another tweet that there are more concerns about Smith’s health than many may be aware of, at least according to what he has gathered. While a release without a good plan to replace him may not seem the wisest course, there is also the possibility that Smith may also consider retirement after missing three games in each of the four seasons prior to 2020. With over $82 million in earnings in his career, he can afford to retire. Despite only being 30, he has already endured ten seasons, with all the wear, tear, and outright pain that accrues. No one could blame him if he decides to hang it up and enjoy life without the battles on the field.

As for releasing him, the Cowboys may have a financial incentive. Despite the multiple restructurings of his contract to open up cap space, the team could release him as a post-June 1 cut and gain $6.75 million in cap space, per Over the Cap. If you haven’t noticed, Dallas has some pressing needs for cap space, including re-signing one Dak Prescott. Belt’s idea does not seem at all far-fetched in that light.

As for Collins, he fought multiple problems in camp before going on IR. A hip injury was the most cited, but there were also reports of a groin problem that may have been the real issue. In any case, these are not things like ACL injuries, where medical solutions are well-established and recovery is fairly predictable. There is a huge question mark attached to how well he will overcome things.

That leaves the Cowboys with Brandon Knight and Terence Steele, who were often just not up to the task. That is to be expected from a couple of UDFAs, the first with only seven games experience in 2019, and the other a rookie forced onto the field. They grew a lot over the season. You still don’t want to go into the season with a franchise quarterback coming back from his own injury depending on them for protection.

If the team has a decision, or even two, to make on who to keep, they are forced to make it as soon as possible. Either they roll the dice on their tackles being ready for the season, or they have to be prepared to look at both free agency and the draft to find some kind of solution.

For the sake of argument and having a coherent article, let’s assume they stick with Collins, but Smith is no longer in the plans. Suddenly, the draft priority changes dramatically. While they would almost certainly sign a free agent OT as insurance, the team cannot afford to spend top dollar, and we all know how their bargain shopping has often failed in the past. While defense has been assumed to be the priority for the draft, needing a long term solution at left tackle would have to move very high on the list - possibly to the very top. And obviously negative developments with Collins just increases the concerns by another order of magnitude.

The Cowboys simply do not have any real solution currently on the roster, with largely unknown Isaac Alarcón, recently signed for this year, the only other OT currently available. He was the International Program player who was on the practice squad in 2020. He is intriguing, but is assumed to be very raw, and is hardly someone to plan around.

We have to await further developments to make more definitive statements about what the team is going to have to do. But this could well become one of the top offseason priorities. It would greatly complicate building a successful roster for the team.