Not too long ago, the Cowboys experienced what felt like an early death knell for their season before it even had a chance to get started. Tyron Smith’s avulsion fracture in his knee determined that he’d be out until at least December, and the likely solution was to move rookie Tyler Smith to his spot after spending most of the summer learning to play guard.
This plan left many feeling uncertain and downright doubtful about the Cowboys’ ability to properly contend in the NFC in 2022. So that’s why it was such a big deal last week when it was announced that Jason Peters would be working out with the team. That eventually led to his signing, a move that may very well have just revived the Cowboys’ season as it was losing consciousness.
Peters played last season for the Bears in a very similar situation to what he’s coming into in Dallas now. Chicago signed him in mid-August and he wound up starting 15 games at left tackle at age 39. While Peters was not the elite blind side protector that played for the Eagles for 12 years, he was easily the best lineman on his team. In fact, Peters posted the 19th-highest grade on Pro Football Focus among all tackles last year.
Peters finished the year allowing just six sacks and being penalized just three times; that last figure was likely music to McCarthy’s ears after watching Josh Ball accumulate enough penalty flags to knit a scarf this preseason. To put Peters’ numbers in context, Andrew Whitworth of the Rams allowed five sacks and was penalized six times last year with the Rams en route to a Super Bowl victory.
Brandon Thorn of OL Masterminds provided a brief recap of Peters’ quietly impressive 2021 season back in March, which has since resurfaced, and it really paints a picture as to why this signing is so big for the Cowboys:
It just doesn't get any better than studying Peters' film either in terms of PHD-level craftiness. Here are a dozen or so snaps of him mixing up his sets & hands on rushers. So good. pic.twitter.com/hRAobIlcrR— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) March 10, 2022
It wasn’t too long ago that Peters was considered a top five tackle in the NFL, routinely competing with Tyron Smith for the top spot in many analysts’ eyes. His play began to decline when he tore his ACL and MCL in the 2017 season, but Peters was still with the team for their Super Bowl run and beyond. And last year he still played at a top 20 level. There’s no question that, regardless of his level of play this year, Peters can at least provide valuable mentorship to the younger offensive linemen here.
Peters had stated earlier in the offseason that he planned to play for a team in 2022, and as such he kept himself in shape over the past few months. Now, the Queen City, Texas native gets to return to his home state with a very real chance at a starting role for a team that had Super Bowl aspirations until a little over a week ago.
The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is how quickly he’ll be able to suit up. When Peters joined the Bears last year, he had several weeks to practice with the team before the regular season began; he also had the benefit of reuniting with the offensive line coach who had been with him for the majority of his time in Philadelphia.
Peters doesn’t have that kind of time or familiarity now, so it might take a week or two before he’s really able to come in and play. That would likely explain why the Cowboys signed him to their practice squad instead of adding him to the active roster. This would also allow the coaching staff to get at least one look at Tyler Smith at left tackle in a real game situation, which may or may not be a good thing.
All in all, the Cowboys hit a home run by bringing Peters into the fold. No longer can they be accused of doing nothing at the tackle position, even if Peters doesn’t enjoy a repeat of his 2021 season. The influence he’ll have in the locker room will be invaluable, and odds are good that Peters will give the team above average left tackle play. That alone could be enough to pull this team back from the edge of the abyss that they were seemingly careening into.
That this move happened in the first full week of September proves that roster construction is, indeed, a 24/7/365 endeavor.