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Resource allocation: Would an OG in the first round be too much investment the O line?

Four first-round picks is just too much to sink into one unit. Or is it?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Greatest Show in Shorts, otherwise known as the NFL Combine, starts this week. That means the upcoming NFL Draft is at the front of the mind for all football fans. As you probably are aware, the Dallas Cowboys sit at 19 in the first round. Barring a trade, that means they will go on the clock at a time when most of the “blue chip” prospects are already gone. They have to find the best value they can from what is left as they try to rebound from a lackluster 2017 season.

There are many opinions as to what Dallas should do. At this point, a couple of names that are floating around as being possibilities are Isaiah Wynn and Will Hernandez, both of whom are seen as day-one starters at left guard if either winds up wearing the Star.

But there are some objections being raised to that idea. Here is an extract from an article by Mauricio Rodriguez of Inside the Star:

According to Over The Cap, Left Tackle Tyron Smith averages $12.2M per year and Center Travis Frederick $9.4M. Enter Zack Martin who is about to get paid the big bucks soon. He’s still playing under his rookie contract after Dallas picked up his fifth-year option.

However, a contract extension is expected to arrive this offseason. If we’re being honest with ourselves, he will ask for a big amount of money, because he deserves it. BrownsKevin Zeitler, the highest paid RG right now, earns $12M a year. Martin’s numbers will probably be even higher.

If the Cowboys draft a guard, it’ll be in order to ensure that this offensive line will work at a high level.

But if you already have Smith, Martin and Frederick, shouldn’t it already be working at a high level? Do you really need four first-round picks (La’el Collins would’ve been a first-round pick if it wasn’t for a situation which had nothing to do with him) in your offensive line to be successful?

The gist of this and other negative views on the idea is that the Cowboys already have a huge amount of cap space tied up in the offensive line (which is only going to grow when Martin gets his new deal), they already have enough superior talent there and don’t need another first-rounder, other needs are greater, and the pick would be more safe than exciting.

But is that the right way to approach things?

First, a disclaimer: I have already staked out my position that the Cowboys need to go with an offensive guard, a 1-tech defensive tackle, a true blue chip at a position of need that unexpectedly falls to them, or trade back. So I have a definite opinion on this. That does not make me correct, or those on the other side of the argument wrong. But I do think there is another way to look at the objections being raised.

First, it seems illogical to say that you can make a unit on the team too good. Yes, the Cowboys can still have a very good offensive line with a more average left guard and the other linemen healthy. But we saw that things did not go so well last season, partly due to the issues with the Chaz Green experiment, the somewhat mediocre play of Jonathan Cooper (especially right after he took over for the injured Green), and the injury issues with Tyron Smith. Adding another stellar talent to the O line would greatly improve the chances of the line returning to the elite of the NFL, and add some insurance that it would not fall off as much as it did when one of the All Pros was out for several games.

The cap issue seems a bit overstated as well. So far, the cap keeps going up, and Smith and Frederick are already on long-term contracts that, while certainly high in terms of cap numbers, are also somewhat friendly to the Cowboys. That is a benefit of locking in your stars to long-term deals, at least as long as they stay healthy and continue to perform at a high level. (When they don’t, it opens up a separate can of worms, as we are seeing with the current Dez Bryant situation.) While Dallas has had some failures in that area, such as the way DeMarcus Ware ended up leaving the team, and the dead money hit resulting from Tony Romo’s departure, it has generally handled these things without too much negative impact. (Admittedly, some will also argue that last point. Again, it depends on how you see things.)

Another point is how the Cowboys value the various units on their team, and it is hard to dispute that they consider the offensive line the foundation of the offense as well as the very identity of the team. In getting a picture to head the article, I once again noticed something that is not exactly hard data, but seems telling. In every picture of the team taking the field behind head coach Jason Garrett, the offensive line is the first group of players out of the tunnel. That seems to reflect just how they look at the line: They lead the way for everyone. Maybe there is a more mundane explanation. It may just be a customary thing around the league. Or it may just be a habit the team got into. But even if this is just a random quirk, the focus on the offensive line and how investing a lot of draft capital in it has paid off for Dallas is not questionable. The team certainly does not feel you can overvalue top-notch offensive linemen.

Finally, it must be remembered that taking players like Frederick and Martin, and the signing of La’el Collins, were driven to a large degree by the way the draft played out. Only Smith seems to have been a target for the team all along, with the others being acquired because they wound up the best option remaining on the board for the Cowboys when the time came to turn the card in (not the mythical one in the draft room, either). Collins, of course, was a unique chance to pick up a first-round talent for a UDFA contract because of the bizarre circumstances surrounding him. If the top player on their board when they go on the clock should turn out to be Wynn or Hernandez, then they certainly shouldn’t go with a lesser option just because it would seem to be loading the team up too much in one unit.

All this will of course depend on how the actual draft board winds up being put together by the Cowboys’ staff. But going by current projections, it is not unreasonable to think that a guard could turn out to be the best player they can get. If that is so, the choice is obvious.

Load up, and plan to roll over the opposition.

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