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Cowboys might want to lock up Terence Steele long-term before prices rise

There is no time better than the present for the Cowboys to make this happen.

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NFL: OCT 17 Cowboys at Patriots Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Just over two years ago, with little fanfare, came an undrafted free agent from Texas Tech University. Being an undrafted free agent comes with little room for error in order to make the team, especially as an offensive tackle. Typically teams will draft offensive tackles very high in order to protect the most important position on the field, the quarterback. In the Dallas Cowboys case, the 40-million-a-year franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott.

Making the roster as undrafted free agent is very difficult to accomplish, especially with a team that has been known for their riches along the offensive line for the better part of the last decade. However, in 2020, Terence Steele not only made the team, but he did something not done in franchise history since the early 1960’s, start in the season opener as an undrafted rookie. The reason Steele started at right tackle was due to La’el Collins being unavailable for the game as he had an injured hip. Many were surprised by Steele getting the start, and that even included Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth from NBC’s Sunday Night Football. During the broadcast, Michaels and Collinsworth had thought Cam Erving would get the start. While talking about the situation, Collinsworth mentioned that Coach Mike McCarthy was very high on Steele and was excited to see him play.

When you hear of a rave review about a player from the team’s head coach, especially one that was undrafted, that certainly has to get everyone’s attention. From the season opener to the end of November, Steele was gaining plenty of in-game experience as the team’s starting right tackle. He struggled at times, and Zack Martin even had to slide over from starting right guard to starting right tackle. This only lasted for under two games as Martin injured his hip. From there on out, Steele remained in the starting lineup for the team’s final five games. What Steele had benefited from, essentially right away, was all of the injuries along the offensive line. Although it was an injury curse for some, it proved to be the opportunity and game experience that Steele needed in order to show the Cowboys his long-term potential on the roster.

Going by the numbers in 2020, Terence Steele had started 14 games in his rookie campaign. During his rookie year, he played 970 snaps which gave him plenty of live reps against the best defensive lineman in the league. With all those snaps, he did look shaky at times and committed six penalties which ranked inside the top 15 in the entire NFL, which isn’t very good. He also ranked second worst in the league in another category, sacks, as he gave up nine. His overall player grade according to Pro Football Focus was 50.3.

To say 2020 for Terence Steele went smoothly would be quite a stretch, but it was a blessing in disguise to get so many live reps against the best. Being a rookie in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 made for some challenges getting integrated into the NFL lifestyle. Judging by offensive line coach Joe Philbin and Terence Steele’s comments, it appeared that Steele was in a better position to succeed in 2021.

“I just think he’s more comfortable, more confident in what the job description is,” Cowboys offensive line coach Joe Philbin said Tuesday. “I think he’s more comfortable systematically with what we’re asking him to do. When you’re a rookie, especially when we didn’t have an offseason program in 2020, everything was maybe a brave new world for him and all the other rookies. I think he worked extremely hard in the offseason from a strength and conditioning standpoint.

“Just a lot of things, and you always hope there’s a natural progression from your first year to your second year, and I think that’s evident with him.”

Steele said he actually dropped about 10 pounds in the offseason but added lean muscle, specifically focusing on his lower-body strength.

“I felt like I was lacking a little bit, especially toward the end of the season,” he said last month. “Just my lower-body wise, personally it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I put the work in for that.”

Said Philbin: “I think his play strength is a little bit better. His play speed has always been good, but I think that’s been a little bit better. He’s very decisive out there. He gets off the ball in the snap count perhaps as good as anybody that we have. He’s a hard worker, and the work and the dividends have paid off for him.”

In the 2021 season, La’el Collins was back in the mix at starting right tackle until he wasn’t when he was suspended five games which spanned from week two through week six. Misfortune again for Collins led to another opportunity for Steele to showcase the work he had put in from the end of the 2020 season to week two of the 2021 season and he certainly showed improvement. Going by the numbers, he started 13 games and he only gave up two sacks and his overall grade improved to 64.5 according to Pro Football Focus. By seasons end, the improvement he had made was noticed.

“He’s just a worker, and he wants to do whatever he can to help this team,” said All-Pro guard Zack Martin.” He really put in a lot of work and a lot of time in this offseason to get himself ready to go and be available and be ready when his number is called. He’s been called a lot in a lot of different places this season, and he’s done a great job.”

Steele just turned 25 on June 4th, which means he hasn’t even hit his prime yet. With 27 games under his belt which equates to 82% of the offensive snaps since entering the league, he is already well-seasoned and ready to go. The only thing that isn’t ready to go is his long-term future with the Cowboys. Dallas has been known to take their sweet time on negotiating new deals with players, and this has burned them in the past. At this stage, with how much Steele has improved, now is the time to lock him up long term before he has an even better season in 2022. He becomes a restricted free agent after the season and will more than likely command a bigger payday.

Based on his average salary Steele is the 40th highest paid player at the right tackle position with an average base of $765,000 a year. Due to his improvement since arriving in Dallas, and projecting his improvement for the 2022 season, he could have other teams sniffing around after the season forcing Dallas to match an offer sheet. Dallas should get in front of this right away and lock him up on at least a four-year deal with an average salary of $3.5 million a year which would rank him 17th in the league currently which is a very fair deal and not a huge gamble. Hopefully the team has learned from previous mistakes or it could be another costly one for the organization.