With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn't far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with right tackle La'el Collins.
What's Been Good: For a second consecutive season, La'el Collins was a guy who got better as the season went along. The beginning of the 2018 season was bumpy for the second-year starter at right tackle, as he struggled with penalties and allowing pressure. It's fair to wonder if he struggled with the technique being taught by offensive line coach Paul Alexander. Collins was flagged for holding five times in the first seven weeks of the season. When Marc Colombo took over the offensive line, though, Collins seemed to rebound. He played much more dependably in the second half of the season, drawing just two holding flags in the final 10 games of the year. It might not have lived up to the hype for a guy who has flirted with Pro Bowl consideration in the past, but it was a solid starting effort on the right side.
What's Been Bad: Collins might have been better in the second half, but it's still not a great designation to be the Cowboys' most penalized player on the season. Collins drew 11 flags in 18 total games, as holding calls and false starts plagued him throughout much of the season. The Cowboys had to be hoping they were buying low on Collins when they extended him two summers ago, but that's an interesting question at this point. He hasn't been bad since re-joining the starting lineup, but it's hard to answer questions about his long-term future.
2018 Highlight: This isn't fair, because Collins was part of some excellent offensive line play in 2018. On plenty of occasions, he showcased his mean streak and his physical style of play. But he also had the dubious honor of being involved in one of the most bizarre plays in Cowboys history. It was the second quarter of the playoff loss to the Rams, and the Cowboys faced 3rd-and-7 at the Los Angeles 36-yard line. Dak Prescott dropped back to pass, felt pressure and tried to slide to the left side of the pocket. Coming around Tyron Smith, Rams pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. swiped at Prescott and lunged for the sack – only for Collins to intercede. It appeared that Collins was attempting to block Fowler, but wound up wrapping his arms around Prescott. The refs eventually blew the play dead, saying that Prescott was in the grasp of a tackler. The only problem: the "tackler" in question was Collins. The play pushed the Cowboys out of field goal range and left a lot of people scratching their heads.
What's Next: Few Cowboys players are facing a bigger 2019 than Collins. He's entering a contract year after two solid, but not spectacular seasons on the right side. On a team that's already heavily invested on the offensive line, can Collins play well enough for the front office to make him a priority? There's also an ongoing narrative that Collins would be better suited moving back to left guard, where his natural strength and physicality might suit him better. Whether or not the Cowboys agree with that assessment remains to be seen, but it's a storyline that has followed Collins his entire pro career, so there's no doubt it'll be discussed in 2019.
La'el Collins bounced back in a big way during the second half of the 2018 season. What does the future hold for the Cowboys' right tackle?
Bryan Broaddus' Bottom Line: Thought it was a more consistent season for La'el Collins. It took him some time to get going his first season back at tackle but not this year. Felt like he had a better understanding of what he needed preparation and technique wise. The physical and mental traits are there and it continued to show each week. There were days initially that I worried about certain matchups for him but I didn't feel like that was the was at all this year. Collins faced his share of tough opponents and was no worse for wear. The days as a potential liability for physical mistakes and penalties were now a thing of the past. Collins has developed into a more reliable player and that's to his credit.