The once-great offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys is under construction. It’s such a weird thing to say considering in 2019 the team had All-Pro’s Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick manning the trenches along with La’el Collins coming off his best season as a pro.
But things are different now. Frederick has retired and his replacement, Tyler Biadasz, is a clear downgrade. Left guard Connor Williams, who has been the team’s weakest link during his time with the team, will be a free agent and his return is unlikely. Tyron Smith continues to show that he can’t stay healthy as he’s coming off his sixth straight season of missing games with the last two years being his two worst in terms of availability. Even La’el Collins has missed 20 games over the last two years due to a combination of injuries, suspension, and benching. Needless to say, things haven’t been good.
Rabblerousr and I discussed the idea of trading La’el Collins on the latest episode of The Star Seminar on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The Cowboys enter the new season with the offensive line as an area that needs to be upgraded. The team was the worst in the league in penalties last season thanks largely in part to the repeated infractions from the offensive line. Williams was the most penalized player in the league last year.
With the offensive line in flux, an already difficult situation could be made harder as the Cowboys are planning to part ways with La’el Collins.
The #Cowboys are having active trade conversations centered around starting OT La'el Collins, sources say. A mainstay since 2015, Collins is due $10M this coming year and there is interest from other teams.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 10, 2022
In an offseason that has already consisted of trading Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns to save some money, it is not surprising the Cowboys are looking to move on Collins. Just like Coop, losing him would make the team weaker. However, unlike the wide receiver position, what they’d lose pales in comparison and can much more easily be rationalized from a financial standpoint.
First off, let’s take a look at what Collins would cost the team over the remaining years of his contract (details courtesy of spotrac.)
The first thing to note is whether it’s trade or release, moving on from Collins would come with nearly a $14 million dead money cap hit. And considering keeping him would cost the cap just over $15 million, that is not a lot of savings for the current year. If you look at it that way, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to part ways with Collins.
However, that $14 million has got to be accounted for regardless as it’s bonus/restructure money Collins has already received. The real dilemma the Cowboys are facing is whether or not they want to keep paying him $10 million a year. In a vacuum, that’s a fair price for Collins as he’s a solid player and good tackles are worth the investment. But for the Cowboys, that price might not be the best bang for their buck considering they also have Terence Steele on the roster.
An undrafted free agent in 2020, Steele has been catapulted into the mix right from the get-go. He’s played in all but one of the games so far during his NFL career, starting in 27 of them. While his rookie year came with a lot of growing pains, he’s continued to battle and showed a lot of improvement this past season to where he was given the starting nod over Collins despite the veteran being back from his suspension. And we must say, the youngster held up just fine.
With Terence Steele at right tackle, the Cowboys were 6-1 last season with the offense putting up 380+ yards in ALL of THEM.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) March 10, 2022
The Cowboys had seven games last year with under 380 yards of offense. La'el Collins played right tackle in ALL of THEM.
To be clear, while that tweet was fun to write, it’s not lost on me that there were many other underlying factors that played into those splits. In LC’s defense, many of his games at right tackle also featured Smith missing time at left tackle and/or the left guard shuffle between the two Connors. Plus, Steele’s time at right tackle occurred mostly prior to Dak’s calf injury, which from this fan's perspective was the biggest pendulum swinger of the offense's performance last year.
That being said, it’s still worth noting that it has already been demonstrated that the offense can roll with Steele at right tackle so his presence at the position should not be alarming. He gets better with each new snap and who is to say he doesn’t emerge as the better player at some point next season? Granted, losing some depth at tackle may be alarming, but this team has done a better job in finding quality free agent swing tackles in recent years like Cam Fleming and Ty Nsekhe. The Cowboys should be able to find a viable reserve at a much cheaper cost than keeping Collins on the roster.
Do we want this team to get rid of Collins? No. He’s a solid player for sure, but for a cost of $30 million over the next three years, is it really worth the investment when you have a player like Steele for dirt cheap? What happened to maximize the value of players while they’re on cheap rookie deals? It’s understandable that fans like Collins, but is he that much better than Steele to not capitalize on the financial gains of moving on from him? And if the team can land some extra draft capital in the process, I say go for it.