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Cowboys Offensive Line Receives Middle Of The Pack Grades

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At the Senior Bowl a few weeks ago, Jerry Jones admitted that the Cowboys "may have gotten a little overzealous with some young players in the middle of our offensive line".

Jones also made a point specifically about not squandering Tony Romo's prime years, and that providing adequate protection will be a critical aspect of that.

Related: 'Taking The Cowboys By Their Word: Free Agency And Draft Objectives'

While Cowboys fans may have widely differing opinions on how to provide that protection, nobody is arguing that the Cowboys shouldn't improve their O-line. And neither are the fine folks at Pro Football Focus, who just published their cumulative grades for all 32 offensive lines in the NFL. According to the PFF grades, the Cowboys O-line graded out as a decidedly middle of the pack 15th.

It was a year of transition for the Cowboys, so they can feel somewhat relieved that they only dropped six spots from their 2010 Top 10 finish. You have to think that this process isn’t quite complete yet, with a rumored switch of tackles and a need to get better at left guard. How the 2012 offensive line performs could very well determine whether the Cowboys are able to challenge the Giants in the NFC East.

Much has been made about the interior of the offensive line, and Jerry Jones concurs above, but PFF point out that the worst player on last year's line according to their grading system was Doug Free (-11.9), who ranked 53rd out of 76 tackles in the NFL. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they already have an answer for the left tackle spot in Tyron Smith, who graded out as the fourth best tackle last year (+13.7). Switching positions between Smith and Free is likely going to be step one in the Cowboys' plan to fix the O-line, and Todd Archer just tweeted the confirmation a couple of minutes ago:

According to Archer, Garrett added that the switch is not set in stone and could be revisited in future. For now though, we'll assume that step one is officially in the books.

Step two will be about fixing the interior of the O-line, and it won't be as simple as switching a couple of guys around. The Cowboys brought in Bill Callahan as the new offensive line coach, a move that can be taken as a sign that part of the issue with the O-line was a coaching issue and not only a talent issue. At the very least, as Jerry Jones indicates, the Cowboys were overoptimistic about their personnel along the O-line, and singling out Hudson Houck to shoulder the blame probably isn't doing the issue any justice.

The Cowboys effectively started three rookies on the O-line last year (in addition to Smith and Nagy, I'm counting Costa as a rookie, just to make a point). The next time somebody decides to start three rookies on the Cowboys O-line and you find me arguing how that could even remotely be a good idea, shoot me.

In the meantime, I'll keep my fingers crossed that Callahan and the Cowboys find a way to address the interior of the O-line through free agency or the draft - and perhaps even both.