The NFL is a league of failure. Every year, 31 teams end the season on a disappointing note, whether it is sinking into the cellar in the standings, missing the playoffs by a win, or finally exiting the postseason. Only one team gets to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end. All teams work continually on avoiding failure, but most face it. A major part of that is identifying their weaknesses and doing what is needed to correct them.
There are high hopes for the Dallas Cowboys this season, at least in part due to the way they have addressed many issues in the offseason. A very good read on a couple of those things is Dan Rodgers’ look at what things contribute to Dak Prescott’s success. He makes an excellent case for how the addition of Brandin Cooks and Mike McCarthy taking control of the offense should help the offense thrive.
We discussed this idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
But resources are limited, and not all things were addressed as successfully. Weak links can stymie the team. Over a decade ago, our One Cool Customer wrote one of the best articles you can ever read on just how valid the concerns about problem areas are. It was based on the O ring theory, and it is still one of the most influential pieces on my own analysis of the Cowboys. It is lengthy and incredibly detailed, so for the tl;dr crowd, what it discusses is how some things are crucial to success or failure of the overall team, and some of those things are more prone to their own failure. Identifying and fixing those before things go wrong is vital. It is also something that is very hard with the restrictions and limitations of the NFL.
The weak link this year in Dallas seems clear. The offensive line is fragile. Right now, the starters look great. Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terence Steele are a formidable group. That is the same lineup that was planned for last season.
It just never happened. Starting with a training camp injury to Tyron Smith, the staff had to repeatedly reshuffle pieces to make things work. One of the key ones was Connor McGovern, He started 15 games at LG. The team has moved on from him, losing what would have been crucial depth.
Behind the starters, there are nothing but question marks and maybes. Most of the rest of the offensive line members are very inexperienced. That lack of experience means any injury to the starters is very much a threat to the success of the team. The offense starts with their performance. Running the ball depends on their ability to block. Prescott has to rely on them for protection when he passes. If one of the backups has to fill in, the opposing defense is sure to attack them. This will not only affect the execution on the field, it might constrain McCarthy’s play-calling as well, forcing him to lean on plays that help mask the weakness.
The plan was badly disrupted in 2022 when Tyron Smith was injured, and this year’s plan is already threatened before training camp even starts. Terence Steele is coming off his own injury, which included multiple tears to the ligaments in his knee. His recovery is reportedly progressing well, but it is not certain he will be ready to go when the season begins.
Further complicating things is the plan should Steele not be available. The plan appears to be moving Tyler Smith back to LT while Tyron Smith shifts to RT. That would mean going to the backup guard, and we can’t identify who that will be. Veteran Matt Farniok, rookie Asim Richards, and FA addition Chuma Edoga are the most likely suspects, but this is a big question that must be answered in training camp. Farniok may be the primary backup for Biadasz which would seem to favor one of the others being next up at guard. And should they have to move Tyler Smith out again, they would face the question of who will be the swing tackle on game day. Matt Waletzko and Josh Ball are the current candidates, and they too are extremely inexperienced.
This seems as precarious as a Jenga tower with half the pieces removed. The resources at hand are not reassuring. Another consideration is that any injury on the line disrupts the continuity. The Cowboys did a very good job adjusting for that most of last year, but it is another layer of complication.
This is why it is very likely Dallas will add outside talent at some point before the start of the season. They are sitting on over $20 million in cap space. While they might prefer to use that to sign CeeDee Lamb or Trevon Diggs to extensions, there is simply too much need for more depth. Some think that Jason Peters may be part of the plan. The long time veteran was very helpful last season and reportedly will only consider coming back to play for the Cowboys so he doesn’t have to leave his home in Dallas. He should not be the only option.
While pickings may be slim in free agency right now, that will change as teams begin to make decisions about their roster. There are going to be some players released as camps progress and, of course, there will be the flood of players when all teams make one big cutdown this year. Will McClay and his staff will be working the phones with other teams to find out who is likely to hit the market. That is information that many teams will share, because they get the same information back. There is also an element of taking care of veterans who are just squeezed off the roster.
It is highly likely the Cowboys will sign at least one offensive lineman as the regular season draws closer, and they might even get two if the price is right. With the lack of depth and the troubling injury history with the current group, it seems mandatory to do something.
This may all come to nothing, with the starters enjoying good health and the depth players developing nicely. That is not at all what happened last year, and no one can say how it will go this fall. With the exception of quarterback, there is no other place on the roster that could have such a negative impact. No unit is more reliant on how its component parts fit together than the offensive line. Outside of running back, the offensive line is the most unsettled unit behind the starters. Prior to training camp, it is the part of the team that seems most vulnerable to failure, and as mentioned above it could degrade the entire offense severely. The staff needs to come up with some better alternatives in the next couple of months to have a chance to make this a truly successful season.