One of the worst things that happens in NFL training camps is an injury. Unfortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, it only took until Day 2 of camp for that to happen, as rookie offensive tackle Matt Waletzko suffered a shoulder injury. This affects a crucial concern for Dallas as the team needs to sort out the backup situation at offensive tackle. We expect that Tyron Smith will miss time at some point, so the Cowboys have to have someone prepped to step up. Many were hoping for Waletzko to be a part of that solution. But now the team is having to consider other ways to attack this. Our Tony Catalina and Tom Ryle come at this from different directions to figure out what is next.
Tom: Let’s wait a minute before we hit the panic button. The fact surgery is not required may lead the staff to hope Waletzko will recover quickly enough to get back into the thick of things. The real evaluation of the linemen on both sides of the ball doesn’t start until the pads come on next week, so he is not going to lose much sitting out a few practices now. While they should always be keeping an eye on what is available in the free agent market, they don’t need to make a hasty signing. Don’t forget they have a bunch of other players in camp at the position, and as we have seen with players like T.J. Vasher and Malik Jefferson, those guys can start to emerge at any moment. The timing is a bit fortunate. This may be one case where early is better. They can at least wait until Monday to figure out how urgent things are.
Tony: My friend and colleague Tom makes a great point when he mentions that surgery not being on the table is a good thing, while also pointing out that padded practices haven't even started yet being another valid point to consider. However, if this situation has taught the Cowboys anything, it’s that things can change for a team and quickly. This injury has provided the team a chance to see how truly thin they actually are at the position and be honest with themselves if they didn't already know. Josh Ball has stepped up to take the bulk of the second-team reps at tackle, while Aviante Collins may benefit from this absence as well, but even before the injury the combined players who are realistically vying for the swing tackle position comprising of Waletzko, Tyler Smith, and Josh Ball have exactly zero NFL game experience. While understanding the Cowboys want to evaluate in-house options first, It may be time for the Cowboys to have a true evaluation of the situation and look outward to find their swing tackle for this season. Regardless of Waletzko’s status, if nothing else this puts a heightened emphasis on the very real situation in front of them.
Tom: Well, let’s throw in another factor to consider, and that is what the Cowboys are likely to do in this case. And as you all have probably noticed, Stephen Jones is taking great pleasure in counting his salary cap. He is going to want to hold off on this as long as possible. Besides, the pickings are already slim. They aren’t going to find Terence Steele 2.0 out there at this point. For that reason, they also are probably going to want to take a few practices to see if they do have anything developing from those options you listed. They also have Amon Simon, an unknown quantity, and Isaac Alarcon is still with the team on the International Pathways waiver. They should also be protecting Tyron Smith and Steele. That is more reps to go around.
If they do eventually have to go hire a new tackle for depth, it will be someone who has the experience that he should not need a lot of time to adjust. Panic moves seldom work out. This is not time to go that route. We are just getting started with camp. It’s going to be a long slog.
Tony: You’re absolutely right, Stephen Jones often reminds us of how comfortable they are with the roster and the current cap situation. That alone makes your point seem like the much more realistic option. However, there may come a time when the Cowboys will need to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves. Without this injury scare that honesty and self reflection may very well have come down the line, but circumstances may have just changed as a result. All offseason, from the draft until now we have read through the lines to see its been a two-man race between Waletzko and Ball for the swing tackle position, With one of the two aforementioned players not currently participating in the competition, it isn't much of a competition after all.
Stephen Jones likes to mention that talent acquisition is a 24/7 business, and this may be one of those times where his words need to lead to action. You previously mentioned that the available tackle options in the free agent market are lackluster and I would agree with that assessment, but let’s look at that in a slightly different light. You see that as reason why to not jump to that route just yet, and I see it as a reason to make a move now. Injuries happen every day around the league. Every team is going to have this conversation we are, and with conversation comes action, and if the Cowboys wait too long to make a decision it very well could cost them what is actually left for slim pickings.
Tom: Your points have some validity, although people are getting a bit ahead of things declaring this to be a two-man race between Ball and Waletzko. And of course you may be proven right in the long run. But let me add one more thing that can come into play here. There is an assumption that one swing tackle is the answer. but this could be a time when they go with two backup tackles. That will let each focus on learning one position and not having to be ready to switch everything from left to right handed. It will make the chance of surviving an injury better by making it easier for the players to learn their assignments. It comes with the cost of a roster spot that could be used somewhere else, but those are the tradeoffs that always have to happen. In any case, I don’t think this will be resolved right away.