When the Dallas Cowboys put Terence Steele in the starting lineup in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, everyone thought the team was crazy. That seemed to work out pretty well.
So well that according to Michael Gehlken, they will place a second-round tender on the restricted free agent as they work through contract negotiations toward a long-term deal.
Cowboys are placing the second-round tender on restricted free agent Terence Steele, a person familiar with decision said today. The right tackle is ahead of schedule in his return from ACL surgery.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 4, 2023
The former undrafted free agent has been developing into one of the best tackles on the Cowboys. Before suffering a season-ending injury against the Houston Texans, he was having a career year. According to Pro Football Focus, Steele had an overall run-blocking grade of 82.1 and a pass-blocking grade of 63.7, his best numbers as a pro. From Week 1 to Week 14, the Cowboys ranked 11th in the NFL in DVOA for their rush offense. Steele played a vital role in their success on the ground.
Once he left the lineup, Dallas dropped to 26th in the same category from Week 15 to Week 18, never recapturing their early season success running the ball. Steele’s absence was certainly felt.
Stephen Jones mentioned this week how Steele is ahead of schedule with his recovery and could be back sooner than originally estimated.
Stephen Jones said Terence Steele is ahead of schedule in his return from torn ACL/MCL and expects him to be ready for training camp. Set to be a restricted free agent, Cowboys working through which tender they will give him: first ($6 million) or second round ($4.3 million).— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) February 28, 2023
What the second-round tender means
Since Steele was undrafted, he played just three seasons before hitting free agency. The Cowboys could apply a “qualifying offer” or “tender” to allow them the right of first refusal if another team wanted to offer a contract to Steele.
The various tenders teams usually use are first-round tender or second-round tender. The difference between the two is if another team wants to sign Steele in this case, the Cowboys could either match the offer with the given salary or will get draft compensation if they don’t.
If no team wants to sign the Cowboys tackle, Steele gets a one-year contract for $4.3 million. The front office still has until April 21, 2023, to negotiate a long-term deal with their right tackle. Otherwise, he’ll play under the tender for the season.
Other clubs have opportunity to reach contract with RT Terence Steele by April 21, but the Cowboys can match any offer sheet. They want Steele in Dallas long term. Second-round tender is worth $4.3 million. https://t.co/JsEijAApgX— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 4, 2023
Either way, Dallas is motivated to get a long-term deal done with a player they continue to develop. If he still needs time to recover, that could be the reason the team wants Tyron Smith to return for another year.
If Steele can get back to the player he was for most of the 2022 season, the Cowboys should get back to “running the damn ball” like Mike McCarthy wants to.