The first big Dallas Cowboys news of free agency broke quickly on Monday. It should be no surprise to anyone who follows the team that it was about a player departing. Starting left guard Connor McGovern is getting a three-year, $23 million deal with the Buffalo Bills. That makes left guard a hole the team has to fill, and it is one of their top priorities.
That sense of deja vu you feel? This is almost exactly the same situation they were in a year ago after they let Connor Williams walk, also over the cost it would have taken to keep him. Further, another big issue they have is wide receiver, which was also true in 2022.
Left guard is not the only offensive line position with some question marks as they work on preparing for this season. Starting right tackle Terence Steele is returning from a season-ending injury. The team is hoping he will be ready by training camp, and it is worth noting they using a second-round RFA tender.
#Cowboys RT Terence Steele received a 2nd round tender but I’m told they aren’t negotiating anything long term until this summer when he’s healthy. He’s coming off a torn ACL but is ahead of schedule and expected to be ready for training camp.— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) March 13, 2023
As things stand, Dallas has only two offensive line positions that are set, center Tyler Biadasz and All-Pro right guard Zack Martin. Tyler Smith is going to be a starter, but it could be at either left tackle or left guard. If Steele is back, the staff may decide to have Tyron Smith play LT with Tyler moving to LG, which, wow, was the plan going into training camp last year. Tyron’s injury changed all that. But if Steele is not able to go to start the season, Tyron would probably go to RT, and Tyler would return to LT, still leaving them with the hole to fill at LG.
Additionally, they have to make a plan for injuries. The big worry is Tyron, who has a long history of not being able to go the entire season. Steele’s health becomes crucial. If he needs a few games to be ready, they would likely plan on him being the one to step up for Tyron. Or, if Steele does start the season and they roll with the all Smith left side, then Tyler is the one who would move out to LT when the seemingly inevitable games are missed by Tyron.
Shuffling players mid-season is never a preferred course. It would be optimal to find another answer at left guard, and make Tyron the swing tackle, again if Steele is ready by September. There is an argument to be made that making Tyron the swing tackle should be a goal all along.
There are limited options to fill the left guard job internally. Matt Farniok would seem the best candidate, but he has limited experience and it is an open question whether he is ready for the role. Josh Ball got some looks at left guard last year, but did not impress.
Given that the team is not going to invest cap space in a likely solution at the position, the draft looks like where they will turn for a possible new starter. That will mean they need to use a high draft pick, likely in the first or second round. There are not a lot of great guard prospects, so they may try taking a tackle they think can move inside as they had planned for Tyler Smith to do.
This is a very complex situation to work out, and things will just get more so as free agency continues. There are going to be other holes as more free agents like Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch could well be moving on, and the team makes a decision on what to do about Ezekiel Elliott’s overpriced contract. Those will just put more pressure on making the right decisions with their draft picks.