While Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott garner most of the headlines, the two highly-paid stars depend on five titanic men to make their jobs easier. For years, the Dallas Cowboys have boasted one of the best offensive lines in football. Buoyed by the dominant tackle tandem of Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, that dominant group remains the key to ensuring the Cowboys live up to their potential on offense.
But on Thursday, the Cowboys narrowly avoided a potential offensive disaster that would have decimated Dallas’ Super Bowl dreams.
La’el Collins is part of a star-studded offensive line
Jerry Jones began his quest of constructing a dominant offensive line by selecting Tyron Smith ninth overall in the 2011 NFL draft. Two years later, the Cowboys snagged Travis Frederick with the penultimate pick of the first round. Dallas followed up by making Zack Martin the 16th player off the board in 2014.
With three first-round starters in the mix, Dallas stole another Day 1 talent the following year due to unforeseen circumstances. Expected to be a top-32 pick, La’El Collins ended up falling out of the draft entirely after teams grew concerned about his possible involvement in the shooting death of a pregnant woman with whom he had a previous relationship.
Ultimately, Collins signed a three-year, $1.59 million deal as an undrafted free agent and was never named as a suspect or person of interest.
Despite his UDFA status, the former LSU star quickly showed why he should have been a first-round pick. The 6-foot-4, 323-pounder started 11 games as a rookie. After an injury-shortened 2016 campaign, Collins returned with a vengeance. Since 2017, he has missed just one game and has developed into one of the league’s top right tackles.
But on Thursday, the 27-year-old encountered a situation that could have resulted in more than just missing a few football games.
Cowboys avoid potential offensive disaster
With training camp underway, NFL coaches finally get a chance to see their players in action. Position battles begin to take place as NFL hopefuls try to secure a roster spot. But in the case of the Cowboys, they managed to avoid a potential offensive disaster to a player who has no worries about making the team.
On Thursday, La’el Collins did not practice. As it turns out, it had nothing to do with a football-related injury. Rather, the Cowboys’ starting right tackle got into a car crash. Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News first reported the incident via Twitter. While he reported that a team source characterized the situation as minor, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network provided a different outlook.
Ultimately, it seems like La’el Collins escaped without any major injuries. However, the car crash could have resulted in an offensive disaster for the Cowboys. After all, they have precious little depth at the tackle position behind their two highly-paid stars.
Dallas can’t afford any injuries at tackle
When healthy, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins rank as one of the top tackle tandems in the NFL. But that “healthy” term should not be taken lightly.
After starting all 16 games in four of his first five seasons, Smith has played just 13 in each of the last four seasons. Though he still performs at a high level, his play as tailed off slightly since his dominant early-career form. The veteran already left practice early on Thursday with a hamstring ailment. If injury issues persist, that could prove disastrous for Dallas.
The fallback options at tackle look bleak. Mitch Hyatt currently projects as Smith’s backup. He signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent last year and spent most of the 2019 season on the practice squad. Going from Smith to Hyatt would be a significant downgrade for Dak Prescott and Co.
It doesn’t get better at right tackle, either. If Collins had suffered a serious injury on Thursday, that would force Dallas to insert another former undrafted free agent into the lineup. Like Hyatt, Brandon Knight signed with the Cowboys after the conclusion of the 2019 NFL draft. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder did start one game last season in place of Collins. However, his best fit comes as a swing tackle rather than as a starter.
Overall, the Cowboys may boast a dominant starting lineup on offense, but they have zero depth at tackle. An injury to either Smith or Collins would force Dallas to resort to underwhelming replacements, which could derail an offense loaded with talent at the skill positions.
On Thursday, the Cowboys managed to avoid a potential disaster. But once the season starts, they better hope that their tackle tandem stays healthy. If not, Dallas’ chances of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy will dissipate.