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“We like our guys” or “Build through the draft” - fixing the Cowboys offensive line

The Cowboy need help along the offensive line, but is help closer than they realize?

Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There were a lot of things that didn’t go right for the Dallas Cowboys’ offense down the stretch of the 2021 season. The play-calling wasn’t creating enough opportunities, the quarterback play was amiss at times, and they couldn’t really get much going on the ground despite having two good running backs. It also didn’t help that the team couldn’t get out of their own way as they committed too many penalties putting them in difficult down-and-distance situations.

There’s a lot of blame to distribute, but a chunk of it falls on the meager play of the offensive line. Between failing to secure blocks and the continuous illegal tactics that resulted in flag fests, the Cowboys' offensive line was being bullied in the trenches. For this reason, many are hoping to see this organization take steps to improve this unit that could even include the use of a premium draft capital to find some new talent.

While the team should be looking to the draft to improve this unit, just how much help is needed? Do the Cowboys have some options already on the roster who could take a step forward next year? To get a better feel for the team’s offensive line personnel, let’s take a look at who they have under contract and what their role could be next season.

Zack Martin

He’s the most consistent player on the offensive line and maybe even the entire team. He’s under contract for three more years for an average of roughly $19 million. He’s proven that he’s worth every penny as he’s rolled out six All-Pro seasons including last year. He’s 31 and has missed a little bit of time (nine games total) over the last four seasons, but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. The right guard position is the one position this team can feel totally comfortable about heading into next year.

Tyron Smith

There was a time not too long ago that Smith was every bit as good if not better than Martin as the Cowboys' longstanding left tackle has had a stellar career. Unfortunately, the last half of it has been injury-riddled as he’s missed time in each of the last six seasons. That’s quite the contrast considering he only missed one game over his first five years in the league. Like Martin, Smith is also 31 years old, but the wear and tear of so many trench battles are taking its toll. Usually, Smith is one of the best when healthy, but lately, he’s either more banged up than we realize or his performance is starting to decline. It’s probably a little of both. Smith is under contract for two more seasons at $17.5 million per year and you’d think the team would keep rolling with him as long as his body can take or until his play drops enough to no longer be the right choice at left tackle.

La’el Collins

An undrafted free agent gift back in 2015, Collins asserted himself as the team’s starting right tackle and looked like he was on the verge of Pro Bowl status after a great 2019 season. Sadly, an injury took him out of action in 2020 When he returned this past season, it appeared he had fallen out of favor with the new coaching staff as LC lost his starting spot to the younger Terence Steele for a couple of games this past year. He’s still under contract for three more years at the cost of around $15 million per season, so the Cowboys have a slew of different options. They can keep him at right tackle, slide him to left guard, or make him a cap casualty if they want to go cut costs and go another direction. Steele is clearly the cheaper option and offers comparable play to Collins, but the team may want to see how things go this offseason before making a decision.

Tyler Biadasz

The Wisconsin center was a nice fourth-round find in the 2020 draft. And although he’s been the subject of plenty of criticism, Biadasz has actually shown a lot of growth. He was the only offensive lineman for Dallas who started all 17 games last year. Being midway through a rookie deal and playing solid, you’d think he probably remains the team’s starting center for the immediate future with the only thing stopping that being a first-round investment of Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, the best center in the upcoming draft.

Connor McGovern

Despite already having Connor Williams, the team felt they couldn’t pass up on McGovern when they selected him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Whether it was due to injury early on or just being stuck behind the other Connor, McGovern’s usage hasn’t been as much as you’d like from that type of investment. He has managed to play in 30 games over the past two seasons and started 14 of them. He had an opportunity to steal the starting left guard spot from Williams this past season, but his play wasn’t quite up to snuff. The team decided to go back to Williams even though the veteran struggled. With Williams expected to leave in free agency, McGovern appears to be first in line for another shot at a starter’s spot; however, that’s still the weakest link along the offensive line. Plus, he’s only got one more year left on his rookie deal, so the team will need to address this spot sooner or later. The Cowboys may look to draft a replacement or possibly move Collins inside.

Terence Steele

Despite being an undrafted free agent, Steele has shown the team quite a bit over his first two seasons in the league. He’s played in all but one game so far, starting in 27 of them. He’s under contract for one more year, but he’ll be a restricted free agent after next year, so essentially the team will have two more years of player control. If he continues to improve the Cowboys could have an eventual replacement for one of their veteran tackles, but in the meantime, he can still serve as a super cheap swing at the bare minimum.

Matt Farniok

A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, there wasn’t much expectation from the versatile interior lineman from Nebraska. Despite a crowded house, Farniok not only made the final cuts but also saw action in 12 games last year. He never started and 75% of his snaps came on special teams, but this center/guard is an interesting player to keep an eye on if he can build off a successful rookie season. He’s on the books for three more years for an average of less than a million per season, so if he ended up being a reliable contributor, that’s a huge plus for the salary cap.

Josh Ball

Similar to Farniok, Ball was a Day 3 draft pick last year who is under team control for three more cheap years. However, we didn’t get to see Ball in action because he was placed on injured reserve prior to the beginning of the season with an ankle injury. He was also selected in the fourth round so that speaks to what the team sees in him. While it’s easy to put him out of sight out of mind, we really don’t know what the team has with Ball and will have to wait until the next training camp to find out.

Considering the successful evaluation and development of Steele, it wouldn’t be extremely shocking to see a player like Farniok or Ball emerge as a real player along the Cowboys' offensive line.

Here is the Cowboys' complete salary cap breakdown for their offensive line courtesy of spotrac.