Up until this point, fans have been able to build a pretty convincing consensus on the Cowboys’ best player at each position, with the closest winner being Daryl Johnston winning best fullback with 58% of the vote.
But as we transition to the offensive line, things might get a bit closer. This is partially because it’s more difficult to differentiate between linemen, as there are fewer statistics to look at. It’s also due to the fact that the Cowboys have several outstanding offensive linemen in their history. Today, we’re looking at offensive tackles.
The first great Cowboys tackle was Rayfield Wright. What many may not know, however, is that Wright didn’t play offensive line in college. Instead, he moved around between free safety, punter, defensive end, and tight end. The Cowboys picked him up in the seventh round of the 1967 draft and tried him at tight end and defensive end before he settled in at right tackle for the 1969 season. Wright became an integral part of the Cowboys’ offense, helping create holes for dominant rushers like Walt Garrison, Calvin Hill, Robert Newhouse, and Tony Dorsett.
Wright used his elite athleticism - which is why he had initially played other positions - to get in perfect position on blocks. It contributed to Wright becoming one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen during his 11-year career as a starter. He was named to the All-Pro team six times and the Pro Bowl as many times. He was a part of both of Tom Landry’s Super Bowl teams, and in 2006 he was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Jimmy Johnson years in Dallas saw more excellence along the trenches, as the Cowboys had one of the league’s best offensive lines. Dubbed “The Great Wall of Dallas,” the line was in part anchored by their two tackles: Mark Tuinei at left tackle and Erik Williams at right tackle.
These two couldn’t have been more different. Tuinei was known as the Gentle Giant for his quiet demeanor and dominant play, while Williams was considered one of the most aggressive blockers in the league. Like Wright, Tuinei didn’t start his professional career as a tackle. Instead, he was a defensive tackle at the University of Hawaii. He went undrafted in 1983 and the Cowboys picked him up. He moved to the offensive line side for the 1985 season because the team was short on players. Trying out at several different positions, Tuinei eventually found a home at left tackle during the 1986 season.
When on the field, Tuinei was undoubtedly a dominant blocker and helped form one of the league’s best offensive lines ever. However, he frequently missed short amounts of time with knee injuries throughout his career, and Tuinei only managed to start all 16 games three times in his 12-year career as a starter. Nevertheless, he made the Pro Bowl two consecutive years and the line’s overall dominance helped Emmitt Smith lead the team to three Super Bowl victories.
Williams, on the other hand, came to Dallas as a third-round pick in 1991. He didn’t play in his rookie year, as Nate Newton was the starting right tackle. However, Dallas moved Newton to left guard the next year to get Williams involved. In his second game as a starter, Williams went up against sack legend Reggie White and held him without a single sack. It was a sign of things to come, as Williams went on to make the Pro Bowl four times and the All-Pro first team three times. Like Tuinei, Williams anchored the end of the line for a dominant rushing attack that won three rings.
The Cowboys have had several more standout tackles since then, though. Flozell Adams was drafted to replace Tuinei at left tackle, a practically impossible feat. Through his first five years, Adams was unimpressive despite never missing a game. However, he had a career resurgence when Bill Parcells took over. Adams made the Pro Bowl five of the next six years, with the only off year coming when he tore his ACL in 2005. The only Cowboys offensive tackle to make more Pro Bowls than Adams at the time was Wright.
Playing on the opposite side of Adams for a chunk of time was Marc Colombo, now the Cowboys’ offensive line coach. He was a first round pick by the Bears but struggled to stay healthy before being released three years into his career. The Cowboys snatched him up, and Colombo solidified himself as the team’s starting right tackle without missing a game for three consecutive seasons. For a time it appeared that Adams and Colombo could be the next Tuinei and Williams, but both were shipped out of Dallas as the team embraced a youth movement.
While Colombo was a model of consistency for his first three years in Dallas, he missed seven games in 2009 when he broke his left fibula. This allowed Doug Free to play at right tackle and impress everyone, allowing only one sack in seven games. He did enough to convince the team that he could be the starting left tackle in 2010, which led to Adams’ departure.
Free didn’t quite work out at left tackle, and he eventually moved back to the right side in a swap with Tyron Smith (more on him in a bit). But Free found his groove again at right tackle, and when The Great Wall of Dallas was revived in 2014, Free was credited for his veteran leadership along the line.
Then there’s Tyron Smith. Selected ninth overall in 2011, expectations were high for Smith and he’s met and exceeded all of them. Smith cemented himself as arguably the league’s best left tackle, making the Pro Bowl every year since 2013 and being named to the All Pro team four straight years. Injuries have made Smith miss three games each of the last three years, but even with that slowing him down Smith is still considered elite. If he can make the Pro Bowl in 2019, he’d have the most selections of any offensive lineman in franchise history. And keep in mind he’s still just 28 (!) years old.
Without further ado, we ask what should be a fairly difficult question:
Who is the best offensive tackle in Cowboys franchise history?
This poll is closed