A few months ago, I'd wager that the majority of Cowboys fans on this site saw the signing of free agent guard Mackenzy Bernadeau as a depth signing and were not projecting him into the starting lineups. After he underwent surgery last Saturday to repair a torn labrum suffered during rehab for his hip flexor, it seemed a monumental task for some fans to remain calm in figuring out how this team would ever move forward.
A supposed castoff from Carolina was signed to an extremely reasonable contract despite how it was initially painted in the press by media members who should obviously know better. Bernadeau signed a four-year, $11 million contract with a $3.25m signing bonus. That bonus prorates to $812.5k per season. His yearly base salaries are $1m, $1.75m, $2.25m, and $2.75m respectively over the four years. Not chump change, but the Cowboys weren't exactly throwing money at him. A lot of the hand-wringing was probably due to the signing two days later of Nate Livings; another guard Cowboys fans weren't familiar with.
Regardless, most fans started to perform some preliminary fact-finding by checking with other fans (maybe not the best idea) on whether they thought we made a good signing. The early returns weren't good and soured a lot of the fanbase on the signing of Bernadeau.
Since however, we've learned that Bernadeau was in line to start for Carolina before a late camp injury lost him his job to the third man up, as Tom Ryle pointed out from Todd Archer's article. When Bernadeau's backup was lost for the year, Carolina signed a street free agent and rolled with him at right guard for the rest of the year. Carolina had a formidable line; especially in the run game. Football Outsiders ranked them fifth overall in run blocking and the best in the league at getting their runners into position to capitalize on open space (though Cam Newton obviously helped this).
A few sessions into voluntary offseason workouts,new offensive line coach Bill Callahan let it be known that Bernadeau was penciled in as the starter at right guard and was also in the mix for the starting center position. When it was revealed that he wasn't practicing due to a hip flexor, the coaching staff announced they were going to be cautious in his return. It apparently didn't work as he tore his labrum and needed the surgery.
So now that most fans have had some time to absorb the fact that Bernadeau won't be available until training camp at the earliest, the question moves from is he a worthy starter, to whom will fill in.
Follow the jump to see a breakdown of the suspects.
Internal Candidate #1 - Second Year Player, Bill Nagy
An original yuglie. Started at left guard for Dallas through Week 6 when he fractured his ankle against New England, ending his season. Missed Week 2 with a neck strain. Did not grade out well according to Pro Football Focus, having the most trouble in run blocking during his four starts. Nagy was the lone seventh-round rookie that began the '11 season as a starter. Has good footwork and ability to play at the second level and as most second-year players will get their first taste of a true offseason program this year.
Internal Candidate #2 - Second Year Player, David Arkin
Arkin was a surprise selection by the Cowboys in '11 out of small-school Missouri State in the fourth round. He didn't log a snap during the season and the underground rumor mill says that he was being groomed to transition to center but after six months that is still unconfirmed. What is confirmed is that he spent the first part of the offseason working at the camp that helped Montrae Holland get into shape after he was released by Dallas last summer before being brought back into the fold. A very athletic player who didn't appear to have the strength to handle NFL defensive linemen and would have to gain some bulk to see playing time. Very heady player that had a relentless motor.
Internal Candidate #3 - Second Year Player, Kevin Kowalski
Kowalski was an UDFA signing last year and showed enough versatility that he was active for several games. He was the fill-in during the games when Nagy and Holland went out with in-game injuries and acquitted himself rather well. In some circles, Killer was projected as a 5th-round selection that fell in the draft out of University of Toledo. With Phil Costa injured, it was Kowalski that started when Andre Gurode was benched before his release in the preseason right before the Vikings contest. Kowalski performed extremely well as Romo was only sacked once in that game. Played 114 snaps in '11, gave up one sack and no other QB pressures. Received average game grades from PFF.
Internal Candidate #4 - Rookie UDFA, Ron Leary
Leary was projected to be anywhere from a third-rounder to a late-rounder but ended up making it to the UDFA heap for Dallas to snatch up. The University of Memphis product was on the team's radar early; one of the first names linked to Dallas' pre-draft visits. Leary has a degenerative knee condition that will require microfracture surgery down the line, but he is able to play now. The only question is how long of a career can he have. Played left tackle most of his college career before injuries sent him to guard as a senior. Leary didn't even play football until his junior year of high school. His knee condition affects his limited athleticism, meaning he might not compare well to his counterparts when evaluating his second-level ability. Strong player, Dallas felt he was the most NFL-ready of all o-linemen in the draft.
Street Free Agent #1 - Former Cowboy, Montrae Holland
Quick, name the Cowboys second best lineman after rookie Tyron Smith in 2011? Montrae Holland, that's who. After being released by the team then brought back when the injury bug hit Derrick Dockery (and we signed him instead of Brian Waters, why?), Holland transformed the image Cowboys fans had of him. He started from Week 7 through Week 16 when he tore a bicep that he is almost fully recovered from. Depending on how the younger players show and Bernadeau's recovery schedule, Holland might be the first call Dallas makes if it looks outside of the team for a solution. Holland had a +5.9 cumulative grade on the season from PFF, lowered by a -2.1 in his final game when he got injured. He gave up two sacks and nine other QB pressures on the season.
Other Street Free Agent Alternatives
Here's a roll call of street free agents that are still available. Obviously, if Dallas were to look in this direction, they would probably be more interested in players that got cut during the preseason as that pool should have a lot more talent. Regardless, these players are available now.
The best prospect would be Jake Scott, formerly of Tennessee. He graded out with a +13.3 cumulative for 2011. He visits with the Dolphins on Saturday but will probably demand far more than Dallas is looking to invest. The rest are well, meh.
After being informed by OCC that I've been brainwashed (to which I scoff, I'd have to have a brain) by Bob Sturm's assertion that Callahan doesn't like Arkin, I've decided to let that meme rest for a little and just watch what happens. Hey, I had to add too many qualifiers each time I tried to explain it anyway.