While it might not have come as a complete shock, the Dallas Cowboys releasing veteran tackle La’el Collins back in March was a strange move. Entering his eighth season in the league, Collins was coming off one of the better years of his career. In 2021, the 28-year-old recorded the highest run-block grade (89.7), and the second-highest offensive grade (80.2) of his career, according to Pro Football Focus.
While it did save some money, letting go of the proven veteran Collins showed the Cowboys have a tremendous amount of faith in third-year tackle Terence Steele. The 25-year-old’s first two seasons in the league have been filled with plenty of ups and downs.
In 2020, Steele was thrust into action after Tyron Smith’s season-ending injury. The then-rookie did not fare very well, as he surrendered the third-most sacks (9) and pressures (48) in football and recorded a 49.1 pass-block grade, via PFF.
Steele did not let his nightmare of a rookie season hold him down for very long, as he bounced back nicely in year two. Surprisingly, Steele ended up starting 13 of Dallas’ 17 regular season games last year and upped his level of play considerably. The tackle increased all three of his offensive grades by a large margin and allowed seven fewer sacks (2) and 17 fewer pressures (31).
When Steele played well, so did the Cowboys as a whole. In regular season games that the tackle recorded an offensive grade above 60, via PFF, Dallas was 7-2.
There were certainly some areas that Steele still struggled in, like being flagged for eight penalties, but overall his trajectory as a whole is looking much better than it did after his rookie year.
Steele faces a lot of pressure entering this year. His ability to perform will have a direct correlation on if the Cowboys will be able to find consistent success on offense this season. So much so that Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report labeled Steele as Dallas’ X-Factor for this season in a recent article.
Here’s what they had to say about the offensive tackle.
The Dallas Cowboys fielded the NFL’s top offensive line last season, according to Pro Football Focus. But that line faces a test in 2022, as left guard Connor Williams departed in free agency, and they cut right tackle La’El Collins. The Cowboys used their first-round pick on Tulsa guard Tyler Smith to replace Williams. They’re seemingly going the in-house route at tackle, promoting third-year pro Terence Steele to the starting lineup.
An undrafted free agent from Texas Tech, Steele has played quite a bit over his first two seasons due to injuries and Collins’ six-game suspension last season. He surrendered only two sacks across 910 snaps last year, per PFF. However, Steele has also been inconsistent and prone to lapses, as Mark Heaney wrote for The Landry Hat:
“He finished in the top ten in penalties allowed last year, a stat that unfortunately nearly all of the Dallas offensive line dominated in 2021. In the year prior, he finished second in sacks allowed league-wide. That could have more to do with him being a rookie, and he has since improved on that number, but the technical issues that engulfed Steele in his first year are not gone.”
The Cowboys badly need Steele to clean things up in 2022. Their personnel losses up front have taken a toll both on their depth and their margin for error.
We all know Tyron Smith’s health is anything but certain, so Steele could be under even more pressure to perform if Smith misses time and he’s forced to move over to left tackle.
Overall, if Terence Steele is able to build upon his 2021 season and continue to grow and evolve as a tackle, Dallas’ move to save some money and part ways with La’el Collins could look like a good one. On the flip side, if Steele falls back into his 2020 habits and starts going in the opposite direction, the Cowboys could be left regretting the move for years to come.
There are plenty of players the Cowboys need to perform well if they want to be a Super Bowl contender this season. There’s no denying Terence Steele should be near the top of that list.