With the recent news of All-Pro center Travis Frederick being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, his availability to the Cowboys is in question. Before anything else, though, we obviously wish the best for Frederick and realize that playing football is secondary to him having his health.
Still, the Cowboys have to deal with the football side of this. How much time will he miss? What type of player will he be when he returns? Could the team be in jeopardy of seeing their All-Pro center’s career being cut short? These are all things that we will gradually learn the answers to, but for now, the immediate question is who will be filling his shoes while he is out?
Fans remember all too well that the 2017 season fell apart when the Cowboys All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith got hurt and the team did not have a workable replacement to back him up. When it comes to Frederick, fans are hoping the Cowboys have a good contingency plan to where the wheels don’t completely come off the offense should he miss time. What do you think that plan consists of? Who steps in and plays center in Frederick’s absence?
The most obvious choice is to just plug Joe Looney in at center as he is, after all, the backup center. Fortunately for Dallas, Looney has shown a lot of improvement and may be up for the task. There are seven offensive linemen who are considered roster locks for the Cowboys and Looney is the no. 7 guy. The team originally signed Looney in 2016 to a two-year deal worth about $840,000 per year. He was brought on for depth, but managed to work his way into extra reps during the “Jumbo-Joe” package in short yardage situations.
The Cowboys decided to keep Looney around as he earned another two-year deal this offseason, this time making a little over $1 million per year. While he’s been a decent backup guard, his position flex to play center could be put to use if Frederick misses time.
While Looney is the team’s backup center, the coaching staff has a tendency to try to get the best five offensive linemen out on the field. Looney has been playing well, but is the team better off with him on the field versus say, Cameron Fleming? The free agent was brought over to play swing tackle, but he has position flex and is capable of playing inside. It’s never ideal to move multiple pieces to accommodate one missing piece, but if the collective group is better, then it’s worth it.
Could that mean Zack Martin is asked to play center? Eh, you’d hate to remove an All-Pro guard and place him at a spot where he can’t be his dominant self. Martin would appear like a “break-the-glass in case of emergency” type center that the team would do in-game if they didn’t have a decent replacement ready, but he doesn’t seem like a candidate to replace Frederick for any extended amount of time. Let’s keep Zack at guard.
The rookie is going to have some growing pains regardless of where he plays so would a change really hinder his progress? While he played tackle at Texas, his shorter arms makes him a good candidate to move inside which is what the Cowboys are doing with him, but does it have to be guard or can it be center instead? NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock had Williams ranked as his second best tackle on his board and praises his versatility.
“I don’t know what he is and I think a little bit depends on what you want to do with him,” Mayock said. “I thought the intriguing thing is if you’re looking to kick him inside because you don’t like his length, why not consider center? He’s a really smart kid and, to me, the center position in the NFL — everybody talks about tackles — that center thing is every bit as important because they’re setting up the fronts, they’re calling and helping with protections with your quarterback. The center is really the quarterback of the front.”
If the Cowboys go with the “best five” approach and don’t want to mess with moving Martin from right guard, the position flex of the rookie could be the next best thing.
Recruit from the outside
The Cowboys could look to try to bring in a player from another team. This could mean scouring the waiver wire when teams start making their final roster cuts. It could also mean looking to deal for an offensive linemen from a team that has some decent depth. The Cowboys may be willing to give up a player where they have a surplus of talent (like, defensive end) to acquire another linemen. If the team suspects this could be a long-term situation, it’s very possible they take the appropriate action to shore up a position group that is vital to the team’s success.
What do you think? Who should get the call at center if Frederick is out for any length of time?