Finally accomplishing the mission of signing Dak Prescott to a long-term deal is the biggest part of the Dallas Cowboys offseason equation in 2021, but protecting him is far from a distant second. Now off of his crutches and out of his walking boot just four months after suffering a season-ending ankle injury, the two-time Pro Bowler is ahead of schedule and looking forward to the return of starting tackles Tyron Smith and La'El Collins, both of whom also suffered season-ending injuries of their own.
The good news for all involved is Smith and Collins, who underwent neck and hip surgery, respectively, join Prescott as being on track to report to offseason conditioning in this spring -- sources confirm to CBS Sports -- and that is a big deal when considering how mightily the Cowboys' offensive line struggled in their absence. Additionally, while Smith has been glued to the gym to get himself back in prime form (a solid indication his neck is just fine), Collins has not only recovered very well, but has also reportedly begun working out with famed O-line position coach Duke Manyweather, per Jane Slater of NFL Network.
"We feel good about both of them," said team exec Stephen Jones to 105.3FM The Fan in January.
The offensive line in Dallas was ravaged by injury in 2020, which included the usually durable Zack Martin ending his season on injured reserve as well, and its ability to avoid another dismal year will in large part depend upon the return of Smith, Collins and Martin -- the latter expected to be ready well ahead of the team conditioning schedule. The next question will involve Smith's ability or inability to play a full campaign going forward, a concern not associated with Martin and, mostly, not with Collins, either.
Smith, a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, is still a top 2 left tackle in the league when healthy, but he hasn't played a complete season since 2015, having missed three games in each season thereafter before appearing in only two games in 2020.
As for Collins, a Pro Bowl-caliber starter at right tackle, his recent stretch on injured reserve marked the first time of his NFL career in which he's missed an entire season since getting a shot as a Cowboys undrafted free agent in 2015. He's missed more than four games only once, when he was sidelined for all but three games with a torn ligament in his toe in 2016, and Collins has since been absent for only one game the past three seasons. Having been moved from left guard to right tackle, he powered himself to a five-year, $50 million extension in 2019 that includes $35 million guaranteed, and this coming season will be all about making good on that deal.
A mix of backup swing tackles -- Terence Steele, Brandon Knight, and Cameron Erving -- did all they could but were wholly incomparable to what Smith and Collins provide, and the Cowboys are more than ready to see their starting edge protectors get back in the trenches.