PHOENIX – Following Ronald Leary's free-agent departure, La'el Collins has a "great opportunity" to step back in at left guard first rather than a possible move out to right tackle, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett says.
Collins suffered a toe injury in the third game of the 2016 season that required surgery and sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Leary, a former Cowboys starter, filled in capably and recently signed a four-year deal worth a reported $36 million with the Denver Broncos.
"We wish Ron nothing but the best," Garrett said Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix. "He was an outstanding player for us during his time with the Cowboys. But it's a great opportunity for L.C. to come back and earn that spot. We signed Jonathan Cooper, who was with us at the end of the year, so we can create some competition there."
Though an official announcement has not been made, indications are that right tackle Doug Free is heading for retirement – a decision that would also require a replacement on the Cowboys' offensive line.
Free, who has been with the Cowboys since they drafted him in 2007 fourth round, dealt with foot and ankle injuries in recent years and had surgery the previous two offseasons.
"Doug Free's a great football player," Garrett said. "He'd play 10 more years if he was healthy, but he's been dealing with a number of things in his body the last few years and in his mind it was time to move on."
Chaz Green, a 2015 third-round pick, made two starts at left tackle for an injured Tyron Smith last season and is a top candidate at right tackle if he can stay healthy. The Cowboys signed five-year veteran Byron Bell last week for competition.
Collins and All-Pro right guard Zack Martin played got tackle experience at LSU and Notre Dame, respectively, giving the Cowboys flexibility on the line if needed.
"(Martin) is one of those guys who has a great feel and understanding of the game and has the physical traits to do a lot of different things. In an ideal world, though, we'd like to keep him at guard," Garrett said.
The approach is similar with Collins.
"I think that would be in his best interest," Garrett said. "But again, he has some position flex. Both those guys played tackle in college so they have a lot of experience in games at a high level doing that. But we're going to give him a chance to play left guard first."