It is the quietest time of the NFL year. OTAs and minicamp are done. Now we wait for the start of training camp. The Dallas Cowboys will convene in Oxnard late next month. That is when the real evaluation of the roster begins as pads will finally come on and the team will play its three preseason games.
Most of the roster is already set, but this year seems to have more uncertainty about some key backup jobs than usual. Those will be where we see the most interesting camp battles. This year, one that may be wide open is for backup tackle. Normally, the Cowboys like to go with one swing tackle to cover both positions. But Tyron Smith has not played a complete season at LT since 2016 due to injuries. This year could see the team carrying two backup tackles as they did last season.
In any case, it is could be a heated competition this year. Here are the current contenders.
The second-year player probably is the current leader. He has had a year to work with the coaches, which can strongly influence eventual decisions. More importantly the team invested a fourth-round pick to get him, and Dallas hates to give up on picks that high. He wound up sitting out last season on IR. Expect Ball to be afforded every opportunity to claim a spot. The question is whether there are any who can unseat him.
Every year we get too excited about later-round draft picks that the Cowboys make. Waletzko is generating a lot of buzz in social media. That is not very meaningful with nothing but very limited data from OTAs and minicamp as a basis. However, if the team once again carries two backup tackles, Waletzko may have a real shot at making the roster. That is not because he has shown a lot. It is because there may not be much competition.
If there is a wild card here, it is Alarcón. He is a product of the NFL International Player Pathway Program, which has allowed the Cowboys to carry him the past two seasons without having to use any kind of roster or practice squad spot. He is a big player at 6-7 and 320 pounds. As could be expected, he came into the NFL very raw. He has had two years working with the coaches. However, there was some talk of him being more a guard prospect. We won’t know for sure how the staff regards him until he is taking reps in camp. But being capable of playing guard is hardly a negative. The team loves them some position flex.
According to Ourlads, there are two other tackles currently on the roster, Aviente Collins and Amon Simon. Collins was on the practice squad last year, and Simon is a UDFA. It is a positive for Collins that the team kept him around, but it is unlikely either will be real contenders for a roster spot. Stranger things have happened, of course.
Stephen Jones has taken the idea of frugality and dialed it up to 11 in regards to free agency this year. He also says that the Cowboys are not done in free agency. He probably is being honest there. Remember that free agents can be acquired at any time. Last year saw the team adding Malik Hooker just as training camp was starting, and they have gone to the FA well during camp as well. Given how Jones plays the game, it is entirely possible that he would choose to sign a tackle for veteran depth sometime in the next couple of months. At this point, the contract demands are not expected to be as high.
Even though it would seem to be down to picking through leftovers now, there are still three OTs left from the list of 2022’s top 101 free agents at a NFL.com. They are Duane Brown, who was number four overall to start the offseason, Eric Fisher at 50, and Riley Reiff down at 100. Jones would be smart to be in contact with their agents to get a feel for what they are looking for, as well as any whiff of desperation as camp draws closer. However, Jones is also prone to a variation of playing chicken, waiting to see how the pressure of not having a contract starts to affect potential signees.
The smart play would be for Jones get one of those players in on a one-year deal with the understanding that they are being signed to be a backup. But he will probably dive deeper into the bargain bin. Further, don’t be surprised if that idea of familiarity with the system in Dallas comes into play. Three names we are know from time spent with the Cowboys are lurking lower down the list of remaining tackles: Ty Nsekhe, Cameron Fleming, and Mitch Hyatt. Although Nsekhe rode the bench last season as Terence Steele became first the primary backup and then a starter, he is certainly a known quantity. Fleming was the same the year before. Hyatt dealt with a series of injuries that kept him from having any chance the past couple of years. At one time the staff seemed to think he had something of interest as they kept him around.
While those are not the most appetizing items on the menu, any of them might offer more than some of what they currently have. Most likely, it is just a matter of time until the tackle group experiences some churn.
If you want a prediction, Ball will make the team and a free agent like Nsekhe will be the second backup tackle. They will probably move Waltezko onto the practice squad with an eye to his future development. What will really matter is how the players perform in front of the coaches in camp, of course. It will be interesting to watch.