INDIANAPOLIS – La’el Collins’ flexibility has been a subject of speculation since the moment he signed with the Cowboys, back in 2015.
It’s not surprising. Collins was an all-conference left tackle at LSU, but he has spent the vast majority of his professional career at left guard. It creates plenty of conversation about where he fits best.
With Doug Free entering his 11th season in the league, and with Ron Leary excelling at left guard while Collins was injured in 2016, Collins’ experience at tackle has been a topic of constant discussion in the past few months. So much so that Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was asked about it Tuesday evening.
“We’ve visited about that,” Jones said. “Obviously right now we feel good about Doug coming back and being able to do that.”
Free has enjoyed a solid run of play in the past few years, signing a three-year, $15 million extension back in 2015. But he seemed to struggle during the Cowboys’ 2016 campaign, as he was flagged a team-high nine times – seven times in the regular season and twice in the playoff loss to Green Bay.
The veteran tackle has one year remaining on his deal. But Jones said that if Free, who just turned 33, were to retire, Collins might represent the best bet to move outside among players currently on the roster.
“If Doug were to retire or not be around or if something happened to him, than yeah, we’ve visited about who would have the best chance to go outside of our inside guys,” he said. “I think he would certainly be an option.”
The often-repeated advice from outsiders sounds simple on the outside: re-sign Ron Leary to remain as the starting left guard and experiment with Collins at tackle. The problem is that Leary figures to cash in big in free agency.
Kansas City guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who boasts 20 fewer career starts than Leary, recently signed a $41 million contract to remain with the Chiefs. The odds that the Cowboys can afford to match that level of pay seem slim.
That more than anything else might keep Collins in place for the foreseeable future.
“Our projection is Doug is going to come back and he’s our starting right tackle,” Jones said. “Obviously, if we don’t get Leary re-signed, which will be difficult, then we see La’el as our starting guard.”