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Free agent focus 2018: LaAdrian Waddle has spent five seasons filling in at swing tackle

The Cowboys are very interested in keeping their offensive line a strength, Waddle has what they need in a backup.

NFL: New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been rumored that the Cowboys are spending quality time with some early- to mid-round offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl which is music to our ears. Much like last year’s draft class, 2018 is also looking light at the tackle position. You seemingly are going to draft one too early or be too late altogether.

Luckily, the Cowboys have two solid starters but the value in a swing tackle is considerably larger after All-Pro Tyron Smith missed three games last season and was hobbled in a few more. Actually missed is an understatement as the loss of Tyron came with two blowout losses to NFC opponents.

[In this series, come along as we peruse the long list of free agents and focus on players that could be of interest for the Cowboys. Some of these players may, of course, price themselves out of range. However, any time you feel like your team is close like Dallas most definitely does, why not be a little aggressive in the acquisitions department?]

OT LaAdrian Waddle, 6’6, 315 lbs, 26-years old - New England Patriots

New England’s offensive line is never the first line you think of as the top-rated group in any one category but just like with most positions, they are lucky enough to have solid depth. They churn out decent players on the line every year despite retirements or releases.

This year maybe a little different though as they have three tackles all set to hit free agency. Nate Solder (starting LT) plus both backup tackles Cameron Fleming and Waddle are set to test the market in March. We’re talking about the Patriots here, so watch them all go elsewhere and still be just fine. We’ve already talked about Fleming but let’s look at another young tackle that could be looking for a new uniform this spring.

Waddle was undrafted in 2013 out of Texas Tech where he earned a few All-BIG 12 honors and mentions. He was also a part of the BIG 12 All-Academic team too in 2011. Waddle was signed as a UDFA by the Detroit Lions where he beat out Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard to start eight of his 12 appearances at right tackle his rookie season. Waddle played 10 games in 2014 missing six games due to a nagging knee injury that ended up needing surgery in the offseason of 2015.

He would only play in eight games in 2015, starting six of them but was seemingly lost in the shuffle after the Lions drafted two linemen and picked up veteran Manny Ramirez in free agency. As the Lions reshuffled their line, they decided to release Waddle on December 15th, 2015. He was picked up by the Patriots and appeared in one game that season.

In free agency of 2016, the Patriots signed Waddle to a two-year deal where he was inactive for all but two games, playing just a single snap that season. Though he never got the chance to play in the Patriots’ crazy come-from-behind win in overtime of the Super Bowl, he was one of the hardest working players in training camp of 2017. At one point, Waddle leapfrogged Cameron Fleming to be the Patriots’ primary swing tackle behind starters Solder and Marcus Cannon.

Waddle started four games this season at right tackle for Cannon but was splitting time with Fleming who got six starts at tackle, too. Waddle started for the Patriots in their postseason win over the Titans but was bothered by knee injury that kept him from playing in the AFC Championship game. It’s unclear how serious the knee is or if he’ll miss Super Bowl LII against the Eagles but he did return to practice on Friday in a limited fashion.

One of the biggest issues the Cowboys faced in 2017 was inconsistent play from the left side of their offensive line. It was a line already dealing with a new starter in Jonathan Cooper at left guard but all bets were off when Tyron was hurt. The left side of the line became a turnstile and neither Chaz Green or Byron Bell stepped up to show they were the definite swing tackle.

In this league, it’s great to have your All-Pros altogether but it’s shortsighted to not think about attrition. You have to have capable backups and though it won’t surprise anyone to have Green, Bell, or both return, it would be wise to look for a slight upgrade. Dallas has tinkered with their swing tackle for multiple seasons since Jermey Parnell signed a big deal to start for the Jaguars.

They typically go after a veteran with starting experience that still has tread on the tires. Waddle hasn’t had an entirely clean bill of health but he has 28 starts to his name. The Patriots may be able to keep two of their three free agent linemen but the Cowboys should certainly consider putting in an offer on whichever guy gets loose.