The Dallas Cowboys offensive line has been a focal point of the team for the better part of the last decade. Back in 2017, it won an “offensive line of the year” award and it was generally considered to be the best around. Since those exalted times, it’s reputation has taken a blow. Tyron Smith has been bothered by continuous injuries, Travis Frederick had to retire after his bout with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and Zack Martin and La’el Collins have had their own injury issues.
Last year, in a season when the offensive line went through so many moving parts you needed a program each week to keep up, the one constant was left guard Connor Williams. He is also the one offensive lineman who probably divides opinion most among the Cowboys faithful.
When he came into the league he was thought to be somewhat of a steal in the second round of the 2018 draft. But he had some flaws that quickly showed up in his first attempt at playing guard and he even got benched for a bit. His strength against the more powerful interior defensive linemen was suspect, and it’s a reputation that still dogs him to this day. But is it warranted? In 2020, you could certainly say he was the Cowboys most consistent offensive lineman and according to PFF, his ability to pass protect keeps getting better.
Connor Williams' Pass Blocking Efficiency has improved every year of his career:— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) April 8, 2021
-2018: 94.8% (506 pass-blocking snaps)
-2019: 95.7% (426)
-2020: 96.1% (739)#Cowboys pic.twitter.com/Uy35o5nMrb
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about Williams’ abilities among Cowboys fans. There is a contingent that is ready to replace him, and many analysts got on board as Rashawn Slater was a popular mock draft candidate in 2021 to take over at guard for Williams. That’s one end of the spectrum.
On the other end is the opinion that he is very valuable to the Cowboys, as illustrated by this article laying out the one player each team can least afford to lose in the next offseason. It’s a list populated by projected 2022 free agents, a category that Williams fits. You can examine all the Cowboys possible free agents for next year in this article, but the top names are guys like Williams, Leighton Vander Esch, Michael Gallup, Randy Gregory, and Dalton Schultz.
Out of those, Williams was the choice as the player the Cowboys can’t afford to lose with this reasoning.
It’s fair to wonder if six-time Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Zack Martin is getting low on fuel after an injury-derailed age-30 campaign. That, center Travis Frederick’s 2020 retirement and a decade’s worth of wear and tear for left tackle Tyron Smith puts a lot on 2018 second-round pick Connor Williams.
The 24-year-old is coming off a breakout 16-start third season in which he excelled and improved as a pass blocker, according to PFF.
Have we mentioned that O-line continuity is critical? The Dallas line has gone through a lot in recent years, so keeping Williams around is quite important. And considering the depth at linebacker in Dallas, it’s much more important than retaining the talented but unreliable Leighton Vander Esch in 2022.
There are certainly plenty of flaws in this argument that could be debated. One is that no one is really doubting how much fuel Zack Martin has left, he is still one of the very best players in the league and there have been no signs of decline. Also, there is the lack of mention of Michael Gallup. If you are going to mention Vander Esch, and then dismiss him because of the depth at linebacker (an idea that in itself is very questionable), then you should certainly mention the superior Gallup who is not a level one priority only because of the depth represented at his position by Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.
And Randy Gregory is still a tempting target as a “need-to” re-sign, but taht is certainly debatable because of his inconsistency of staying on the field.
Which leads us back to Williams. Is he a guy who the Cowboys need to replace as a weak link on the offensive line? Or is he a constantly improving player who represents a link to continuity and someone the Cowboys should definitely re-sign in 2022?
Opinions differ. What’s yours?