Cowboys banking on Terence Steele’s improvement in 2024

When the Cowboys re-signed Terence Steele to a five-year, $85,500,000 deal in the offseason of 2023, they did so assuming Steele would return to form following his December knee injury.

Assumptions can be dangerous business in the NFL; especially true when dealing with injured players. The Cowboys assumed Michael Gallup would bounce back from his knee injury at the end of the 2021 season and that never materialized. They made similar losing bets by re-signing injury flagged players like Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch only to see their time cut short as well. Last seen, Steele was an extreme liability in pass protection.

Out of 81 OTs graded by PFF in 2023, Steele graded 70th overall. Prescott’s 2.56 ATT (average time to throw) was among the 10 fastest of those QBs with 15 or more starts, yet Steele still surrendered 56 pressures, which is second most among all OTs who played at least 80 percent of the snaps in 2023.

In all fairness, pass protection was always Steele’s weakness, even before his injury. But his run blocking was dominant in the past, so it made up for his average-to-below-average pass protection. In 2023, neither phase of his game lived up to expectations. Given the state of the Cowboys offensive line in 2024, it’s imperative Steele regains his preinjury form if the Cowboys offense wants to survive.

The Cowboys offensive line is going through a churning period of sorts this year. Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz have both left in free agency and without a clear heir apparent waiting in the wings, both spots could be reliant on rookies for replacements.

Sure, Tyler Smith could move over to LT and Brock Hoffman could step in at center, but both moves represent a step back at their respective position (at least temporarily) and Smith’s move just creates a new hole elsewhere (LG).

Even if the draft lands perfectly and the Cowboys are able to find their LT and C solutions early, there’s a learning curve which must be accounted for as they develop into real NFL linemen. Blue-chip prospects still struggle early as they transition to the pro game, forcing teams to roll assistance in their direction. In these situations, stability at other positions is a necessity.

In 2023 Steele regularly demanded assistance in pass protection. Luckily for him Smith at LT was one of the best in the game. According to Next Gen Stats, Smith worked on an island the third most frequently in 2023. And his 6.7% pressure rate allowed on those snaps was tops in the NFL.

The Cowboys could afford to roll help Steele’s way last season because Smith was downright dominant on the other side. In games Chuma Edoga had to play LT, things got ugly fast. Like Steele, Edoga demanded help frequently. Since Mike McCarthy couldn’t roll help to both of them at the same time, play-calling adjustments had to made and Dak Prescott’s internal clock oftentimes had to be sped up.

While a highly drafted rookie LT will hopefully be better than Edoga was in 2023, he’s extremely unlikely to be as dominant as Smith was. He’s going to need help with some assignments but to send him that help Steele is going to have to be more reliable on the right side.

Despite just technically starting his extension this season, Steele’s contract is structured in a way he’s releasable as early as next offseason. So, while he’s technically the 10th highest paid RT in the NFL per OTC, he’s playing for his job this season and the Cowboys’ offensive survival relies on his success.


Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire