I've written a number of times about how the Cowboys need to fix the offensive line. Last season they tried Nate Livings and MacKenzy Bernardeau and "competition" at center. Well, the competition idea at center broke down over injuries, leading to a last minute trade of our 7th rounder from this year for Ryan Cook, and the rest of the line was not passable, leading to the worst running attack in the history of the Dallas Cowboys. Only Tyron Smith seems worthy of a long term future in Dallas.
So how do you go about fixing the line given the limited resources Dallas has? I would do this:
1. Sign a free agent right tackle. This article by Tim McMahon lists Jake Long, Andre Smith, Sebastian Vollmer, Phil Loadholt, Jermon Bushrod, and Sam Baker as among the free agent tackles available. Eric Winston has also recently been cut by the Chiefs. There may be others on the market. If I were the Cowboys, this is where I would put essentially all of my free agency interest this offseason.
We might sign some minimum contract guys as backups for linebacker, cornerback, and safety, and maybe even blocking tight end, but the one area worth investing in is right tackle because (a) Jeremy Parnell isn't enough of an upgrade over Doug Free, and (b) we aren't going to be able to draft both a starting tackle and guard, and in the draft, we are more likely to get a very high quality guard at #18 than a high quality tackle.
2. Draft a guard with pick #18. Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack are highly rated guards who can step in and play just like Tyron Smith did his first season. One of them is likely going to be available at pick #18.
3. Create a real competition at center. By drafting a guard, this puts Bernardeau in the competition at center, along with Phil Costa, Ryan Cook, Kevin Kowalski, and David Arkin. I don't think Cook will win this competition, which means that whomever does will be an improvement over Cook's play last year. The bottom two guys in the competition will also likely get cut. My guess is that Costa will win if healthy, which will make Bernardeau the center-guard game-day backup.
4. Cut Doug Free after June 1. For cap reasons, it's likely we have to spread Free's hit over two years. But there should be no thought of keeping Doug Free. Anyone who plays that poorly with that big of a contract has to go.
These moves will result, once again, in three "new" offensive linemen in 2013, for the third year in a row of big turnover. But, each change should be a significant upgrade.
New free agent right tackle >> Doug Free
Cooper/Warmack >> Bernardeau
Costa >> Cook
Backups? Bernardeau > Cook/Dockery Parnell 2013 > Parnell 2012
Behind them, Bernardeau is likely to be the game day center-guard backup. Jeremy Parnell will remain the swing tackle. Leary is likely to assume the role of second backup guard. It would be nice if he could push out Nate Livings in 2014. And beyond that, we may have bodies, but not much depth. If Arkin doesn't show enough to be a capable backup starter, he should be cut, as should Kowalski. Cook may survive another year if he can show enough versatility to be an emergency backup center-guard-tackle, but he's not a long term solution anywhere.