The Dallas Cowboys will be without star right tackle La’el Collins Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. But there’s hope that the NFL will ultimately shorten his five-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. As it currently stands, Collins is out until Week 8. However, ESPN reported Sunday morning that he’s continuing to fight the punishment — and could have a real case to have it overturned.
La’el Collins appeals suspension
According to Adam Schefter, Collins contends that while he did indeed miss a number of mandatory tests, he had a valid reason for each one.
Collins dealt with a series of tragedies and personal adversities last fall, including the death of strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul. Additionally, he suffered a major hip injury that required surgery. Those events disrupted his testing schedule.
A source told Schefter that a positive test for Collins was the result of codeine he was prescribed during the injury’s rehab. Short of a drastic change of heart, however, it’s hard to see how the NFL changes course.
Compounding the Cowboys’ short-term issues on the offensive line, Collins’ backup, Ty Nsekhe, is out with a non-COVID-19 illness this week. That means third-stringer Terence Steele will start against Joey Bosa, Uchenna Nwosu, and the Chargers’ defensive front.
Terence Steele to start for Cowboys vs. Chargers
In Week 1, the Washington Football Team’s offensive line largely kept the Chargers — Bosa accounted for Los Angeles’ only sack. But the Chargers did have 7 quarterback hits, including one that knocked Ryan Fitzpatrick out of the game.
“The plan is to go with Steele, and he’ll do a good job,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday. “He’s a young guy that we’re proud of. He really had a great rookie year last year, relatively speaking, and he’ll do a good job out there. We’ll give him lots of help.”
Per the Dallas Morning News, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott added, “I know he was one of our offseason award-winners, just by the way he attacks the weight room, getting bigger, getting stronger, getting faster. … He’s definitely an improved player.”
Steele, who went undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2020, unexpectedly started 14 games in a crazy rookie season. He allowed 9 sacks and committed 6 penalties in 970 offensive snaps.
The Cowboys do get the most important part of their offensive line back this week — right guard Zack Martin, who missed the opener due to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.
Why the Cowboys would miss Collins up front
After Sunday’s trip to Los Angeles, the Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, and New England Patriots.
On paper, the Eagles and Panthers would be the toughest challenges if the NFL decides Collins must serve the full suspension.
Carolina terrorized Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson in Week 1, with six players combining for 6 sacks. Haason Reddick got off to a great start with his new team, recording 1.5 sacks and forcing a fumble.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan three times, including two by defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
Beyond the Cowboys’ pass protection concerns, a prolonged absence by Collins would be bad news for running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Buccaneers held the star RB to just 33 yards on 11 carries in Week 1.
Heading into Sunday’s games, the Panthers ranked first in yards per rush allowed (2.6), the Patriots ranked sixth (3.2), the Chargers 21st (4.7), the Eagles 25th (4.8), and the Giants 27th (5.0).