In 2010, the most notable thing about the Cowboys' offensive line was its age. The 2010 starting line of Doug Free (26), Kyle Kosier (31), Andre Gurode (32), Leonard Davis (32), and Marc Colombo (31) totaled 152 combined years of age.
A few years ago, ESPN's John Clayton wrote about the "Theory of 150", explaining that if the combined age of your starting offensive line exceeds 150 years, you should expect a decline in performance. A combined age of 150 years means the average age of your linemen is 30 years, and as a group, that may be too old:
If a team lets its starting offensive line exceed the total age of 150 years for five starters, the clock is ticking on its remaining success. Three teams hit that mark over a three-year period -- the Bears, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. The New York Giants hit the 150 mark a couple years ago and, even though they won a Super Bowl, they had concerns along the offensive line.
After the 2010 season, the Cowboys put in place a plan to improve the offensive line, a plan that started with the release of three veterans and the selection of Tyron Smith in the 2011 draft, as Jason Garrett explained.
“We had to make some real hard decisions right at the outset,” Garrett said. “We had some veteran offensive linemen. We ended up releasing three of them in one year. We played with some really young players. We didn’t have the draft choices or the money under the salary cap to go get guys to replace them. We had some hard-playing guys who came in and did everything we asked them to do. We knew we had to allocate resources to this. It also took time as we were taking our lumps against teams that were physically stronger than we were up front.”
The Cowboys' very deliberate commitment to improve the offensive line paid off for the team. Yes, it did take time, and yes, it did involve some luck to get the exact iteration of the O-line the Cowboys will field this year. But that unit may now be the most feared position group in the entire NFL, at least according to NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks. Here's why:
Say what you want about the immediate impact of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott on the Cowboys' return to prominence -- the team's recent success has been fueled by dominance from the offensive line. The Cowboys' quintet demolishes defenders at the point of attack in the run game, resulting in huge lanes for the NFL's reigning rushing king, while also providing a cocoon of protection for the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year on passing plays. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin are all former first-round picks -- and all three were named first-team All-Pro in 2016. La'el Collins was a first-round talent in 2015, but he went undrafted after his name cropped up in a murder investigation (although he was never considered a suspect and was never charged with any crime). The Cowboys scooped him up as an undrafted free agent, and now he's in line to be a full-time starter in 2017.
Defensive lines loaded with Pro Bowl personnel routinely submit at the hands of this Cowboys offensive line. It's quite a thing to see. Considering how the sight of those submissions on film can leave a lasting impression on future opponents, the sheer dominance from Dallas' front line makes the unit worthy of the top spot on this list.
Prior to 2011, the Cowboys hadn't spent a single first-round pick on an offensive lineman since Jerry Jones took over the team early in 1989. Three first-round picks, one undrafted free-agent signing, and the acquisition of a former first-round offensive lineman later, the Cowboys O-line is the envy of the 31 other NFL teams. There's a good chance the following lineup could be even more impressive than the 2016 O-line that won the inaugural O-line of the Year Award in 2016:
Tyron Smith (26) - Jonathan Cooper (27) - Travis Frederick (26) - Zack Martin (26) - La'el Colins (23).
The combined age of lineup above 128, which is still very young by NFL standards. And if Clayton's "Theory of 150" has any merit, this line could play five more years before crossing the 150-barrier in 2022.
And that may be the most frightening aspect of all for current and future opponents.