It's been a long journey but over the last month, we've taken a look at all the positions the Cowboys will be looking to address this offseason. Up to this point, we have looked at the following positions:
Today, we take a close look at the last position - guards.
The Cowboys sit at great shape at the guard position. They have Zack Martin, who has been a Pro Bowler in each of his first two seasons in the league. Then, they lucked out and signed La'el Collins as an undrafted free agent last offseason. The starting unit is stacked. And the Cowboys young gang of linemen has proven to be quite the resilient group so the only thing the team needs to worry about is maintaining solid depth on the roster. Last season, the Cowboys had the luxury of Ron Leary as the next man up. Leary, who is a starting level talent, began the season at left guard until Collins took the job away from him. Prior to last season, Leary had started all but one game for the Cowboys since becoming the started in 2013. But Leary is now a free agent. And so is former backup Mackenzy Bernadeau who moved even further down the depth chart since the addition of Collins.
Here are the top 20 free agent guards from last season, the amount they signed for, and how they performed in 2015 (grades courtesy of Walter Football, rating courtesy of PFF):
If you are looking to find a viable guard in free agency, you could be in trouble. Nine of the top 20 players never saw the field in 2015. Three of them retired, three were signed only to be cut later, and three never got a phone call. On a positive note, most of the options to choose from won't set you back very much. Only Orlando Franklin and Mike Iupati got big contracts, while most of the others played for a lot less. This could be why some of the older linemen just decided to call it quits.
The Denver Broncos, in a 2015 offseason that could be titled, "all the right moves" let Franklin leave for San Diego and back-filled him with Evan Mathis. That worked nicely for them as Mathis performed considerably better and at a much cheaper price.
So what will the 2016 group offer teams this free agency? Here are the top 20 free agent guards this season, the amount they signed for, and how they performed in 2015 (grades courtesy Walter Football, rating courtesy of PFF):
At first glance, it appears this year's class is much better than last year. However, if some of the older players hang it up, it could look a lot more comparable. There will be some top guys for teams to choose from. Richie Incognito, who the media would have torn apart if he played for Dallas, has done a great job of putting the bullying incident behind him. He quietly put together a great season in Buffalo. He got a "prove-it" deal with the Bills and did exactly that. He'll be more expensive this time around.
While there are some good quality at the top of this list, the Cowboys will be looking for cheaper investments. After all, they only need a bench guy. So, which low cost player should the Cowboys target?
Ron Leary had a great college career at Memphis and was touted as a third-round talent, but a degenerative knee condition kept him from being drafted. The Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2012 where he spent most the season on the practice squad. He would get his shot in 2013 when he beat out an injured Nate Livings for the starting left guard position. From there, Leary would hold down the starting gig for the next two seasons and would have some strong performances.
Leary is a good player, but he's had some nagging injuries. Last season he had issues with is groin and his back and no one knows just how long his knee can hold up. Staying in Dallas in a reserve role could prolong his career and bring in more money long-term. But Leary may want a starting job with a starter's salary.
Prediction: Good chance. This is a good fit for both involved. He was instrumental in the Cowboys dominant running game in 2014. Having him in your back pocket would be a perk.
A lot of fans know about the great finds the Carolina Panthers had in 2012 when they drafted Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman, but they also selected another player who joined these rookies as an opening day starter. Amini Silatolu was the Panthers second round pick and started 15 games at left guard his rookie season. In 2012, he helped the Panthers offense produce 5,771 yards (second most in franchise history). It was a great start to his NFL career. Unfortunately, he hasn't started 15 games in his last three seasons combined. Silatolu has had plenty of injuries (hamstring, wrist, knee, calf) throughout his career. He only started three games last season.
With an injury history so extensive, this would seem like an obvious "pass" for many teams. But the Cowboys are a unique situation. Dallas doesn't need a starter. Silatolu could join the Cowboys and take his time rehabilitating. If he's healthy and his number is called - you'd get a quality player. The Cowboys already cashed in on a good value guard when they got Leary for real cheap. A little recuperation time did wonders as he eventually gave the Cowboys quality snaps. The same could happen for Silatolu.
Prediction: Not likely. His price shouldn't be very high. If Leary's price is too high, he could be a cheaper alternative.
The Chicago Bears got good protection out of third year guard Patrick Omameh. He went undrafted in 2013 and spent his first year as a practice squad player. In 2014, he started all 16 games for Tampa Bay. After losing his starting job in training camp last season, the Bears were able to snag him for a low price. Last season, he stepped in for Chicago as a reliable starter and helped boost the Bears running game. While they ranked in the middle of the pack with 4.0 yards per carry, they found success running to the right side where Omameh played. Of the Bears 24 runs that went over 10 yards, 19 of them were to the right side.
The Bears have a lot of offensive linemen under contract and someone of Omameh's abilities isn't going to get a lot of money thrown his way.
Prediction: Possible. Good quality for a depth guy, but he's probably more valuable to some other team.
The eight-year veteran has done a solid job filling in for the Cowboys over the last few seasons. Because the talent on the offensive line is so great, any time Bernie is asked to help out - he instantly becomes the weak-link of the line. For this reason, his shortcomings are a little more accentuated than his OL peers. Bernadeau doesn't offer the Cowboys a lot and his skill set shouldn't be too hard to find, whether it be free agency or later round draft pick. But he does offer one thing they value - he can play center. With Bernadeau, you get a little flexibility and don't have to entertain the idea of moving Zack Martin to center should Travis Frederick get hurt.
Prediction: Not a likely scenario. If he returns to Dallas, it's going to happen much later after all the dust has settled on the free agent market. He's a last resort-type signing.
Are there any guards out there that you think would make a good backup for the Cowboys?