The first year of the Mike McCarthy era has certainly not gone as planned. However, the Dallas Cowboys head coach does not deserve 100% of the blame for the team’s 1-2 record. After all, Dallas has been ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball, especially along the offensive line. In particular, not having La’el Collins available has forced the Cowboys to resort to playing an undrafted rookie at tackle, which isn’t the most ideal solution for Dak Prescott and the offense.
With their $50 million star waiting to return from injured reserve, McCarthy just sent a concerning message about a player Dallas desperately needs in order to save its season. Ultimately, Jerry Jones may have to go shopping to find better protection for his franchise quarterback.
La’el Collins has yet to play a snap this season
Since signing with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2015, La’el Collins has developed into one of the top right tackles in football. Tipping the scales at 6-foot-4, 323 pounds, he brings tremendous size and power to the table. Although he missed most of the 2016 season due to a torn ligament in his toe, Collins has been a mainstay at right tackle over the last three years.
The former LSU star started all 16 games in both 2017 and 2018 and missed just one game last season. When healthy, Collins rounds out a Dallas offensive line that’s widely viewed as one of the NFL’s best units. Thanks to their towering tackle’s standout play, the Cowboys rewarded Collins with a five-year, $50 million contract extension last September.
However, after playing 15 games in 2019, the 27-year-old has yet to take the field this season. Dallas placed Collins on injured reserve on Sept. 7 due to a hip ailment. Though it initially seemed like the team would get its star right tackle back at some point, Mike McCarthy’s latest message should give Cowboys fans cause for concern.
Mike McCarthy sends ominous message about the Cowboys’ $50 million star
With La’el Collins sidelined, and fellow starter Tyron Smith experiencing his own injury issues, the Cowboys’ offensive line depth has been tested early. So far, Dallas has surrendered six sacks in its first three games. While that number may not look terrible, Dak Prescott still got hit 10 times in Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Running behind a banged-up offensive live, Ezekiel Elliott has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.
To make matters worse, it does not seem like the right tackle situation will improve anytime soon. At least, that’s the takeaway based on Mike McCarthy’s concerning message about the Cowboys’ $50 million star from Monday’s press conference.
“He’s a ways off,” McCarthy said in response to whether Collins may need surgery. “But I think like any player that’s on IR, unfortunately, you hope it doesn’t get to that option. Time will tell.”
He further added, “He’s obviously dealing with something significant. We’ll just continue to do the best we can and help him progress.”
Jerry Jones needs to fortify Dak Prescott’s protection
Reading between the lines, it certainly seems like Cowboys fans should not expect to see La’el Collins back in the near future. If he needs hip surgery, that would be a major blow to an offensive line that does not feature tremendous depth. But even if Collins does not need to go under the knife, Jerry Jones would be smart to explore adding a starting-caliber tackle to boost the team’s depth.
Looking at the free-agent market, a few veterans could fit as short-term fill-ins for the Cowboys. Marshall Newhouse has started 81 games since entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2010. He has experience at both left and right tackle, including nine starts with the New England Patriots last season.
Donald Penn also remains unsigned after starting 15 games for the Washington Football Team last season. The 37-year-old may not have much left in the tank, but he would at least bring a wealth of experience and veteran leadership.
Ultimately, Jones has to do something in order to keep Dak Prescott healthy and protected. The Cowboys may boast elite skill players, but they will struggle to make a consistent impact if the offensive line cannot sustain blocks.
Sitting at 1-2, and with La’el Collins’ health situation up in the air, the Cowboys’ season hangs in the balance. If Jones cannot find a way to fortify the offensive line, Mike McCarthy and his team will watch the playoffs from home.