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Cowboys tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins return to health could be the key offseason addition

The Cowboys may just need a healthy unit to win big in 2021.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an annual ritual among fans and media during the NFL offseason. A recounting is done of who their team added through the draft and free agency, and who they lost due to free agency or retirements. Values are placed on each move and are added up in a mythical mathematical equation to determine if the team had a good or a bad offeason.

But there is one element that sometimes gets overlooked, and that is injuries. For the Cowboys this offseason, that hasn’t really been overlooked, mainly because everybody was wondering how Dak Prescott would look coming back from his brutal ankle injury. Even in Prescott’s case, he was technically a free agent so he was part of the “additions” side of the mathematical equation.

Two guys who were already under contract but didn’t play much, or at all, last year are two of the most important players on the team. They aren’t free agent or draft additions, but they should almost be counted that way because between Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, the Cowboys got two games played out of a possible 32 between the two of them.

Both players are healthy this year, and to hear them tell it, they are feeling really good.

La’el Collins on his recovery and hip injury:

“It was something that had been lingering for a while,” Collins said of his hip issues coming into last season. “I couldn’t get down to what was going on. I kept working on it and it came down to the point where something had to be done.”

Collins and the Cowboys held out until Week 3 of last year before having hip surgery, and the decision was not one that came easy.

“It was tough,” Collins said. “I kept going back and forth with myself. If I had to get the surgery done I was going to have to miss the season. It wasn’t something I was looking forward to at all. But it was something that had to be done. Now, I feel good. And I’m ready to rock.”

Not only has Collins fixed his hip situation that led to conditioning problems, he’s gotten in better shape than ever. That is always a cliché during the offseason, players are always in "the best shape of their career", but this time it might be true.

[Collins] claims that he currently weighs 313 pounds, which would be the lowest he’s ever played at. He hopes to shave another few pounds off around training camp. He last played at 323 pounds.

“That’s definitely the mindset,” Collins said. “Stay as lean as possible and keep a lot of muscle. I learned a lot about nutrition and what I need to put in my body and what I don’t need to put in my body. You’re going to have to make those changes so you can get everything that you need out of your body.”

His bookend on the other side, Tyron Smith, is downright giddy about his improved health since he had surgery. Smith is a pretty quiet guy who doesn't talk a lot, but he had this to say.

“Right now,” Smith said, “I’m probably in better shape than I’ve been in in a while, just as far as having an offseason, working out and running with the guys. Especially after last year. Honestly, feeling great. Finally got the neck fixed, and I think that kind of [was] connected to everything with the back. I’m glad I finally got it fixed after all these years.”

Smith had been on a run where he would miss three games every season until last year when he missed 14. If the Cowboys can finally get 16 17 games from Smith, and have Collins back with a renewed condition program, then the needle for their offseason points way up.

“I’m loving the positive vibes,” said coach Mike McCarthy, who dealt with 15 different O-line combinations and four different starting quarterbacks in his first season as Cowboys coach. “They look great out there. I think Tyron, just going off of last year’s experience, I haven’t seen him smile so much. I think a big part of it is he’s healthy. He’s pain-free. He looks great. LC looks great; the big man can run. You watch him go through the workout."

It's easy to discount offseason proclamations about the "best shape of their life” and other optimistic statements about players rebounding or looking great in practices. This happens every NFL offseason for every team in the league. Having a healthy skepticism about that is only right.

In this case, though, it can be overstated how important it will be to have Collins and Smith back in the lineup. The Cowboys are a different team when they, and Zack Martin who is also healthy, are blocking up front. Everybody benefits.

Dak Prescott is protected. Ezekiel Elliott will have bigger holes. The receiving corps will get time to complete their routes. Even the defense should benefit from a potent offense that can better control the tempo.

There will be no bigger offseaosn addition to the lineup, besides Prescott's return, than Collins and Smith.