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Reworking the offensive line has to be a priority for the Cowboys in 2022

The Cowboys offensive line used to be a strength, but is struggling now.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoff-San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
This has become too common.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

How the mighty have fallen. For years, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line was the foundation the team built its identity around. But in recent seasons, injuries and struggles to fill the positions with good players have taken a huge toll. The flaws were all to evident in the dismal showing to end the season against the San Francisco 49ers.

Whether it was a run game that was almost completely shut down, or Dak Prescott under fierce pressure even after Nick Bosa was lost to injury, the failures of the blocking up front played a major role in the defeat. It has been an issue all season, leading to things like the failed experiment putting Connor McGovern in for Connor Williams. Now the Cowboys have to try and find answers this offseason. They are not going to be easy.

Here is the current situation.

Returning starters:

  • Tyron Smith
  • Zack Martin
  • Tyler Biadasz
  • La’el Collins

Connor Williams is a free agent. He had issues drawing holding penalties, which were seen as the main factor in the McGovern situation, and was not seen as a good left guard by many.

Returning backups:

  • Connor McGovern
  • Matt Farniok
  • Josh Ball

McGovern did not do anything to make us believe he is going to be the answer. Farniok showed some promise when playing center against backups, but that is not much to build on. After spending 2021 on IR, Ball remains a completely unknown quantity.

The Cowboys also signed a couple of tackles to reserve/futures contracts this week.

  • Isaac Alarcon
  • Aviante Collins

I have no idea what kind of player Collins is. He may well just be a camp body. But Alarcon is intriguing. This is his third year with the team. He came in through the International Player Pathway as a very raw prospect, and the team used the exemption to keep him on the practice squad. The team keeping him around for another offseason offers some reason to believe they see something in him.

It’s a bit of a grim situation. Smith is one of the best in the league when healthy, but that has been a big issue the past few years. Biadasz is serviceable at best. Whether he can develop will determine if he is the long-term answer at center. Collins is not as consistent as needed. Only Martin continues to be one of the best in the league, but the years are piling up for him. And left guard is open.

Stephen Jones has already begun beating the well-worn drum of not going big in free agency, which means that real help will have to come from the draft. Williams could be re-signed on what would likely be an inexpensive deal, but based on his performance last year, the best course of action seems to be going after a plug-and-play talent out of college. It’s early in draft season, with the combine still to come, but a look at possible options include Kenyon Green of Texas A&M and North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu. Center Tyler Linderbaum from Iowa might be a player that could be switched to guard, or he could replace Biadasz. That would still mean figuring out someone to hold down left guard, but they might find that in a later round. Linderbaum also is one player that could likely be gone before the Cowboys pick at 24. The Cowboys could try and switch a college tackle to guard, something they have done recently with Williams. It is worth noting that Ekwonu is seen as a better tackle prospect than he is at guard.

Dallas also needs to evaluate Joe Philbin. This in no way says he is a problem, but they need to make sure they are confident that their offensive line coach can develop and nurture players. At times, Philbin seemed to be doing a good job, but in light of the overall performance, it is an example of self-evaluation that must be done.

The Cowboys don’t need to immediately re-establish the line as one of the elites of the league. They need to get consistent, competent performance. That was sorely lacking in 2021. This is one of the biggest issues facing the team. Fixing it, or failing to, will have a big impact on the coming season.

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