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Offseason | 2021

Roster Reset: How Different Will OT Position Look?


The free agent signing period is not over by any means, but it certainly has gotten quieter both with the Cowboys and around the league. The focus is shifting now to the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 29-May 1.

While it's still possible to see more moves between now and the draft, the bulk of the player movement has already passed. With that being said, let's take a quick look at each position on the roster and see where things stand heading into the draft later this month.

Today, we focus on the offensive tackle position.

What Changed: This offseason the Cowboys lost an offensive tackle who had little impact in his time in Dallas, and added an offensive tackle who they hope will be more available if needed and reliable in his role.

Cam Erving spent just one season in Dallas. He was brought in as a swing tackle, who might be needed if La'el Collins or Tyron Smith were to get injured. Smith and Collins did indeed get injured and missed essentially the entire 2020 season, but unfortunately Erving, too, dealt with injuries. He was placed on Injured Reserve on September 15 with a sprained knee, and after returning, was placed on the IR again in December. He started five games and played in six games during a season when the team desperately needed help at the offensive line. Even so, Erving was offered a 2-year contract with the Panthers this offseason and will continue his career in Carolina instead of Dallas.

His replacement will be Ty Nsekhe, a veteran tackle who was most recently on the Buffalo Bills. Nsekhe, who is originally from the Dallas area, is 35 years old and has only started 17 career games, but he has clearly provided something of value to the teams he's played for in St. Louis, Washington, and Buffalo, whether on the practice field or as an available and competent player to withstand injuries.

It's entirely possible that the Cowboys draft an offensive tackle in this month's draft, but in any case, Nsekhe may be the player expected to step in and protect Dak Prescott if the injury issues continue for Smith and Collins.

What's Here: The Cowboys very well might have two better offensive tackles than any team in the NFL when healthy. That caveat is the beginning and end of what the position looks like and could reasonably determine the team's playoff chances in 2021.

Smith is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro selection, and before a neck injury started to catch up to him, was on pace to have a case as the best offensive tackle in league history. Unfortunately, the neck issue has plagued him for about five years, albeit not in a way that affected his stellar play for much of those years. But apparently the situation was becoming untenable, as Smith underwent neck surgery that cost him the entirety of the 2020 season.

Collins, 27, was starting to look like one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the league, and in 2019, signed a five-year extension with the Cowboys. The right tackle missed essentially the entire 2020 season with a hip injury.

In his press conference last month, Mike McCarthy stated that both Collins and Smith's rehab was "looking great" and that he didn't anticipate "any setbacks" with either of them being ready to go. If we are to take his comments at face value then we could expect them to be ready to start Week 1, which would instantly make the Cowboys a much better team than they were in 2020. From there, the question would be whether they could both start both games and sustain their health into the playoffs.

What's Next: In the big picture, the Cowboys will just be waiting to find out if Smith and Collins can return the offensive line to greatness.

But in the more immediate sense, the question will be whether the Cowboys are going to draft an offensive tackle in this month's draft, and if so, would they be willing to use the No. 10 overall on the position?

The case against such a move is obvious: If Collins and Smith are healthy, there's no argument to be made that the position is a top need for the team, especially compared to a position like cornerback.

But the case for it is still intriguing and valid. Betting on those players' health is a gamble that would be particularly painful to lose. The Cowboys offense legitimately has the potential to be the best in the NFL and perhaps even historically great from a league standpoint. There's no world where the team's offense is not far superior to the defense and if things go right, could be enough to carry them to playoff success. But all that shatters if they suffer injuries to the offensive tackle position and don't have competent depth to protect Dak Prescott.

If still on the board, Rashawn Slater has the type of size and quickness to be great, and he has the athleticism to suggest he might be versatile enough to able to play guard if needed.

It isn't a move in which the logic is contingent on injuries occurring, however. Smith's dominance isn't going to last forever, and that reality needs to be confronted. The Cowboys wanted an All-Pro tackle to protect Tony Romo for years to come in 2011, so they used the No. overall pick on Smith, and no one would question that pick with a decade of hindsight. It follows that if the team wants someone to protect Prescott, who just signed a new contract, for years to come, then they might need to invest a top-ten pick to get one talented enough to be that great. And one thing is certain: The Cowboys don't plan on having a top-ten pick again anytime soon.

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