The Dallas Cowboys had a good season last year, but it wasn’t good enough. The team looked sharp on defense but was inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball. The play of Dak Prescott moved the pendulum the most, but he had to work with an offensive line that had one of the worst pass-rush win rates in the league. Overall, the line did okay as they persevered after several players got hurt, but there is definitely room for improvement.
Over the next week, we are going to examine each position group of the Cowboys and map out a plan that will help them get better. So far we have covered...
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at quarterback
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at running back
Today, we’ll examine the offensive line.
WHAT WE KNOW
Over the last few years, the Cowboys have transitioned to a younger offensive line group. Terence Steele and Pro Bowler Tyler Biadasz have turned into good players and are both just 25 years old. They have replaced veterans La’el Collins and Travis Frederick respectively.
Rookie Tyler Smith is only 21 and was drafted to eventually replace future Hall of Famer Tyron Smith, but that opportunity came sooner than expected as an injury to Tyron made the rookie the Week 1 starter at left tackle. He ended up starting all 17 games last year and logged the most snaps on the team.
With Smith being a first-round selection last year, the team has four more years of player control. Biadasz is in the final year of his rookie deal, and Steele is a restricted free agent who will almost certainly be tendered.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Steele’s suffered a torn ACL and MCL on his left knee against the Houston Texans in early December. With a projected nine-month recovery time, that puts his return near the start of the regular season. It’s tough to know if Steele will be a full go by the start of the new season or if his return will be delayed. It’s also fair to question how effective he will be in his first season following his knee injury.
This factor could be the first domino that falls in determining other decisions the team has on the offensive line. One of those dominoes is whether or not they should keep Tyron Smith on the roster. He could be swayed into retirement if the team doesn’t think it would be wise to pay out his $13.6 million base salary. Then again, he might stick around. If he does, will they ask him to return to left tackle? Will he play right tackle if Steele isn’t ready? Or will he just be in their back pocket as the team’s swing tackle? And if he doe play, can they trust his body to hold up?
WHAT THE COWBOYS SHOULD DO
It would be nice to have Tyron available for tackle depth or even start at left tackle and slide the younger Smith to left guard to optimize the offensive line. But that’s a luxury the Cowboys cannot afford. His cap cost combined with a substantial track record of unavailability makes keeping him around a risky endeavor.
Instead, the Cowboys should continue to get younger on the offensive line. Investing an early draft pick on a guard or a tackle with guard flex could give the team another long-term piece in the trenches. The team should also consider extending Biadasz and Steele prior to the start of the season rather than waiting until they become unrestricted free agents next year. Both have proven to be valuable commodities that aren’t easily replaced.
These actions would give the team a good starting five with the only thing left to be worked out being their depth. Further development of Matt Waletzko and Josh Ball could be the answer at swing tackle. We got a small glimpse of Ball last year after Steele left the game and while he did have some struggles, he also showed some promise as well. What will he look like in year three?
Waletzko, a fifth-round pick a year ago, continued to have issues with his shoulder as he’s injured it three times in the span of a year, first during his final college game, then re-aggravating it in practice in July, and then yet again in practice in October. Enough was enough and the rookie opted to have season-ending surgery. While he only logged one offensive snap (Ezekiel Elliott scored a goal line touchdown on that play as they went heavily offensive line), Waletzko showed promise in the preseason, and he remains a wild card. If his shoulder holds up and he gets another year of training camp under his belt, he could in the mix as a potential swing candidate.
Third-year guard/center Matt Farniok has already proven to be a reliable backup reserve interior lineman. He played in seven games last year before injuring his hamstring, including making two starts at left guard early in the year after Connor McGovern got hurt. Even when Farniok wasn’t starting, the team found ways to get him on the field as he would be used at times as a fullback. Farniok as an everyday starter wouldn’t excite anyone, but he’s already proven himself to be a reliable depth piece.