Offensive line may be bigger offseason concern for Cowboys than even secondary - Jim Nevarez, CowboysWire
We know the secondary, especially cornerback, needs help, but maybe offensive line is a bigger problem.
The interior of the offensive line had their share of struggles in 2020 as well. All-Pro RG Zack Martin was limited to parts of 10 games during the season and even had to fill-in at tackle during one point. At center, Joe Looney and rookie Tyler Biadasz split time, with the latter likely to take over as the full-time starter in 2021. While Connor Williams started all 16 games at LG in 2020, the former second-round pick continued to struggle at times. Look for former third-round pick Connor McGovern to push Williams for a starting job after filling in for Zack Martin and playing well last year.
If Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La’el Collins can stay healthy the offensive line unit can still be formidable for the 2021 season. However, both Smith and Martin will be over 30 next season and while it’s not uncommon for offensive linemen to play well into their 30’s, Smith has missed time with injuries the last five seasons. With Joe Looney and Cameron Erving free agents, Dallas could look to add some depth this offseason.
Yes, the secondary will still be a position that Dallas will likely address in both free agency and the draft.
With Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods all preparing to enter free agency, the Cowboys may have to replace three starters. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas could have the hardest time replacing Lewis.
Trevon Diggs will look to build on an uneven rookie season that still showed promise.
“When taken as a whole season, there wasn’t a lot of ‘bad’ for Diggs,” Eatman wrote. “But when the Cowboys threw him into the fire as a Week 1 starter, he did indeed looked like a rookie. It was just unrealistic to ask a second-round pick (with a limited offseason due to COVID-19) to come in and successfully cover some of the NFL’s best wide receivers. He was the most targeted player in the Cowboys’ secondary, and early in the season he gave up a number of big plays. On the season, he gave up an average of 14.5 yards per completion. It would have been reasonable to worry that such a tough start would have done a number on a young player’s psyche, but he did manage to improve as the season progressed. Most frustrating for Diggs was that he missed four games due to a broken bone in his left foot.”
A two-year starter at Alabama — though his junior season was cut short with injury after six games — Diggs emerged as a star his senior season with 37 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, taking a fumble back 100 yards for a score and scoring on an 84-yard touchdown return off an interception. He was named first-team All-SEC for his work that season and was a third-team All-America selection.
The Dallas Cowboys then took Diggs with their second-round selection at No. 51 overall. He played in 12 games, starting 11 in his first NFL season, making 58 tackles, 49 of which were solo stops. His production against the pass was even stronger, making 14 pass breakups, per ProFootballReference.com, and returning his three interceptions for 43 yards. He also added a tackle for loss, a sack and forced a fumble.
Put this one in the make-believe file.
Prescott would be worth a similar trade package as Wilson or Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson. Over the last two seasons, Prescott ranks 10th in EPA (expected points added) plus CPOE (completion percentage over expected), fifth in EPA per play, third in success rate, 17th in CPOE and sixth in air yards.
He has a big fan in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“He’s super impressive,” Belichick said in 2019. “This guy can throw the ball, he’s very accurate, he’s got great poise in the pocket, stands in there. He can extend plays and run if he has to, but he doesn’t do much of that unless he really needs to. He has great patience and poise, discipline in the pocket, gets his eyes down field. He’s a very good intermediate-to-deep ball-thrower. He’s got good weapons, but he’s been super impressive.
“Just, great, great quarterback — sideline throws, inside throws, in-cuts, posts, over routes, flag routes, you name it. Possession passes on third down, best third-down team in the league, best passing team in the league, most big plays in the league — I mean, I don’t know where you want to start, they do it all. And, he does it all. He runs options, he runs read zones, keeps the ball in critical situations, tough guy to tackle, makes tough yards when he needs them, so he’s really good.”
The third-round pick from a few years ago started to show something at the end of last season.
Is McGovern good enough to claim that left guard job at training camp? Is the left guard job even up for grabs, or is the Cowboys’ coaching staff sold on the job Williams did last season as the only healthy starter?
It’s easy to imagine McGovern spending the 2021 season as a crucial backup – not a starter, but the first guy to go in if there are any problems. From there, he could potentially be the favorite to start in 2022 – just in time for a contract year of his own.
If that’s the way it plays out, it would be just fine. There are worse returns on investment than a dependable backup and occasional starter. But there’s no denying that it doesn’t quite live up to the expectations for the 90th overall pick.
The Cowboys need to think about special teams during free agency, too.
For instance, long snapper L.P. Ladouceur is a free agent and could return for another year, which would be his 17th season. He’s only two games away from tying Jason Witten’s franchise record of games played with the Cowboys at 255.
And while his base salary is usually in the range of $1 million, the Cowboys might decide to go with a younger deep snapper this year. That might prove to be a risky move considering Ladouceur has been one of the most consistent players in team history, with no bad snaps in his entire career.
Another special teams ace is C.J. Goodwin, a cornerback who led the team in special teams tackles again last year with 10. He also finds himself in the middle of several big plays in the kicking games.
He’s an unrestricted free agent for the second straight year and we will see if the Cowboys decide to make him a high priority to re-sign.
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