The Cowboys keep saying they need to protect Tony Romo to become a better team. But how serious about it are they?
[Ed Note: For a completely different view of things than what you'll read in this article, go back and read this previous post. It's a well-thought out counter to what I'm saying. But for my money, I'm not relying on internal improvement to our offensive line, I'm ready to make some changes. We offer both sides of the coin at BTB.]
Over the last few weeks, there has been plenty of speculation about the Cowboys offensive line. About the only spot where most people seem satisfied is Tyron Smith at left tackle. Earlier this week, we discussed the Doug Free issue. Is he the right tackle? Is he going to move to guard? Will he even be with the team in 2013?
In addition, no one is overwhelmed with the play of the interior line. While we've speculated long and hard about the Cowboys possibly drafting one of the premier guards in the first round, not much attention has been paid to the center spot. Phil Costa was supposed to be the guy in 2012, but he spent most of the season in the injury box. So are the Cowboys satisfied with Costa as the man in 2013?
Owner Jerry Jones indicated that the restricted free agent could be the starter at center if the pieces around him are adequate. "You’ve got to weigh what Costa is, as opposed to what he isn’t," Jones said. "He doesn’t have the arm length. What he is, is as smart as anyone playing in the NFL. What he is, is tenacious. At that position, you can’t do it with two other Costas on either side of him."
Man, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. The Cowboys ownership and coaching staff seems to be slowly realizing what many observers have been saying for a while, the offensive line is kind of a mess. Basically Jones is saying that Costa could be okay if you surrounded him with great talent. In fact, that's exactly what he's saying.
"If we can get in better shape with our guards, then Costa is going to be a good center for us," Jones said. "I can see going with Costa at center for several years."
So they need to get in better shape with the guards, the position the Cowboys just spent on in free agency last year when they brought in Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Is this an admission that those signing where a whiff? Well, not totally, as the caveat is injuries kept those two from being the players Dallas thinks they can be. Still, it feels awful flimsy to be building a foundation on. One guy who needs help from the other two, the other two not exactly knocking it out of the park in 2012. Such is the problem Dallas faces this offseason.
Fortunately, the draft is rich with help at guard. Instead of just wishing that players on their own team will get better, maybe Dallas should just go ahead and draft some help. Like if they get lucky and Chance Warmack somehow falls to pick 18. Just ask Gil Brandt:
"Warmack is very good and will be a factor in the NFL for many years; he should have a Larry Allen-type of career," Brandt wrote. "However, as guards aren't usually drafted in the top 10, Warmack likely will be picked in the middle of the first round. He was an even better college player than the great Steve Hutchinson, who was picked 17th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 2001."
Or the Cowboys could look at Jonathan Cooper. Even if they pass on a guard in the first round, they really need to think about it in the second or third round. If the Cowboys want to win, they need to give Romo protection and improve the running game. They can't keep just hoping that someone on their own team will suddenly improve. And they surely should have been more circumspect about signing free agents like Livings and Bernadeau. Maybe those guys will come around, maybe they won't. So when I see things like this...
Backup guard Donald Thomas of the New England Patriots is mentioned as potential free agent target for the Cowboys. Thomas, a 27-year-old four-year veteran, is an effective run-blocker who also would improve the Cowboys' protection of Romo. He's a smart, developing interior linemen who also offers value as an emergency center.
I get worried.
Whatever else they do in the draft, they really need to pick up some interior line help. And they need to do it in the first few rounds.