One of the Cowboys’ more important players with an expiring contract in 2023 is offensive tackle Terence Steele. Emerging as one of the team’s top offensive linemen last year, Steele shouldn’t be hard to keep as one of Dallas’ few restricted free agents this offseason.
Unlike tight end Dalton Schultz, running back Tony Pollard, and others set to be in the large group of unrestricted free agents, Steele has only been in the NFL for three years. He signed with Dallas as an undrafted rookie in 2020. That means he doesn’t qualify for unrestricted status until 2024.
This gives the Cowboys most of the control now. They can assign him one of the following three RFA tenders for a one-year deal.
- 1st Round - $6 million
- 2nd Round - $4.3 million
- First Refusal - $2.6 million
If Dallas tenders Steele at one of those first two amounts, any team wanting to sign him to a contract would have to surrender a first- or second-round draft pick if the Cowboys decided not to match. The final amount would still allow the Cowboys to match and keep Steele without draft compensation.
Considering that many right tackles are now making $15 million per year or more, getting Steele back at even the first-round tender amount would be a bargain. And with the added protection of draft compensation, no team would dare try to snag him away. Even the second-round amount would likely be a sufficient deterrent.
One important factor in this is the season-ending ACL injury that Steele suffered in early December. But based on positive reports of his 2023 playing prospects and only turning 26 years old in June, Steele’s free agency stock shouldn’t be too adversely affected by the injury.
Sources: #Cowboys OT Terence Steele tore his ACL and is out for the season. He was one of the team’s best linemen and is a big part of their future. A normal tear and should be good to go for camp next season.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 12, 2022
Even with the injury, Dallas could be flirting with trouble if they try to go with the lowest RFA tender. While getting Steele back at just $2.6 million would be nice, the lack of any draft pick compensation threat could prompt some teams to come calling.
You can never underestimate the market for players depending on what else is out there. Back in 2015, who could’ve guessed that the Jaguars would offer offensive tackle Jermey Parnell a significant contract after five years of backup work in Dallas? If other teams have cap space to burn, which the Cowboys almost never do, then you don’t want them setting the price for a guy you’d like to keep.
The Cowboys don’t necessarily have to go the RFA route, either. With the knee injury a mitigating factor in contract talks, they might try to lock Steele up for the next few seasons on a multi-year deal. He would likely be much cheaper now than as an unrestricted free agent in 2024, especially if the health issue is a thing of the past.
Steele isn’t without his own leverage this offseason. The Cowboys rushing attack was much less potent when he went out of the lineup. With questions about Tyron Smith’s and Jason Peters’ futures with the team, Tyler Smith dedicated to the left side, and neither Josh Ball nor Matt Waletzko showing they can be trusted, Steele is clearly Dallas’ best in-house option for securing the right tackle job in 2023.
Thankfully, with the RFA options to lean on, the Cowboys have an excellent chance of getting Terence Steele back at a cap-friendly amount. With other issues to address on the offensive line and throughout the entire roster, this one comes relatively worry-free.