Jerry Jones’ weekly radio segment with 105.3 The Fan served up one particularly useful nugget on Tuesday: Terence Steele will get the first shot at replacing right tackle La’el Collins, who is suspended for the next five weeks for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
That, by extension, means Zack Martin, who will debut Sunday after missing the opener due to a positive COVID-19 test, will remain at his customary right guard spot instead of kicking out wide as he did for two games last year. So concludes the first but almost certainly not last chapter of the ongoing debate of where Martin, the team’s best lineman and a future Hall of Famer, should ply his trade.
The stated argument for Steele, per Jerry, is that the second-year man has gained weight and strength in the offseason, developments that ostensibly should help him hold up better than he did last year, when he largely struggled—I’m being charitable here—as a rookie. Leaving Martin at right guard will provide the offensive line continuity while also helping Steele settle in against the Chargers’ Joey Bosa, among the game’s very best pass rushers.
The case against Steele, meanwhile, can be neatly summed by the good folks at Pro Football Focus:
Fascinating situation in Dallas. RT La'el Collins out a while
Backup RT Terence Steele on 969 snaps 2020:
– 50.3 grade, 49.1 pass blocking
Zack Martin at RT on 117 snaps 2020:
– 84.6, 71.7
Connor McGovern at RG Week 1:
– 69.9, 76.3
Martin wants to play RG, best chance to win? https://t.co/TuzaSq5Pkj
— Brad Spielberger (@PFF_Brad) September 14, 2021
So, yeah. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both media and fans alike are also in support of the move, which is no doubt buoyed by backup guard Connor McGovern turning in a strong showing against Tampa Bay while Martin was sidelined.
But all of this is before the unstated argument in favor of the status quo: Martin would like to stay put. The Dallas Morning News’ David Moore confirmed as much yesterday, which was weeks removed from the exchange in training camp when, upon a reporter asking Martin about the idea of deputizing at center, the 30-year-old replied, “I play guard, so I’ll just leave it at that.” The precedent for Martin moving out wide notwithstanding, it’s obvious the Cowboys don’t want to do it unless absolutely necessary.
Perhaps it doesn’t come to that point. Even if Steele crashes and burns, offseason addition Ty Nsheke likely gets the next crack at the gig. It’s always possible one or both piecemeal together enough competence for Dallas to survive until Collins’ return.
But five weeks is a long time to white knuckle one of the tackle slots, and neither an undrafted free agent with no track record of success (Steele) nor a 35-year-old journeyman (Nsheke) figure to get much benefit of the doubt. Which means the litigation of Martin’s position has likely only begun. The exhausting tactical rigors of the NFL season are officially upon us.