At this point, only the insiders know the truth behind conflicting claims both supporting and debunking the Dallas Cowboys’ pursuit of Eric Winston. The free agent offensive tackle was recently reported to be in contract talks with Dallas, as well as of little interest to the Cowboys.
Whatever conclusion turns out to be legit, there is no doubt in my mind Jerry Jones has a golden opportunity to completely change the complexion of his team by adding the accomplished veteran.
Sure they could stay put and select a solid rookie tackle like D.J. Fluker early in the draft. But why risk it and spend a high pick there when interior o-line, defensive tackle, and safety also demand immediate help?
Not only would Dallas short-change another position of need, but they would also pin all hopes on prompt solid performance from the rookie. Which is never a given considering the elevation in competition level, and increased size/speed of NFL defenders.
There are already several years of consistent production backing that Eric Winston is a high quality NFL tackle today.
Below is a deeper look into the new luxuries Winston would provide the Cowboys.
YOUNG, EXPERIENCED, AND CONSISTENT
Winston is a 29 year old native Texan selected by the Houston Texans in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft. Since assuming the starting right tackle spot for the final 7 games as a rookie, Winston has remained a solid NFL starter ever since. He’s played over 1,000+ snaps in each of the last 5 seasons.
At 29, and a 7-year veteran, he’s young enough to be at the peak of his career, as well as experienced enough to offer the benefits of a seasoned veteran leading his fellow linemen. Not to mention, injuries have yet to play any negative factor in his professional career.
FAR SUPERIOR TACKLE
Comparing the PFF grades and recent performance stats of Eric Winston and Doug Free clearly displays the vast production superiority of Winston. Numbers marked in red below represent the lesser result between the two players.
ELEVATES O-LINE POTENTIAL
Naturally the overall line potential will increase due to the rise in production at right tackle with Winston. However, the level in which he can elevate the entire line as a unit is vast.
With a solid starter now at right tackle, there are 2 experienced back-ups for the tackle spots in Doug Free and Jermey Parnell. Assuming Free accepts a pay cut and remains a Cowboy.
Any of the following 4 rookies could fill a huge hole in the interior line…Chance Warmack (1st), Jonathan Cooper (1st), Larry Warford (2nd), or Barrett Jones (2nd).
Now in Week 1, Dallas would trot out a more experienced Tyron Smith at LT, a talented rookie at guard, and solid starter with Winston at RT. The revamped o-line would feature 3 very talented players, instead of the 1 Dallas is currently boasting.
That would leave only the center and opposite guard starting roles up for grabs between Phil Costa, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings, Ron Leary, and Kevin Kowalski.
Within that group of 5 hungry players, I’m sure Dallas could pair the 2 winners with the other 3 solid starters and end up with a much improved unit. They’d also have a seasoned veteran in Winston helping guide the new rookie guard next to him.
Eric Winston returning home to Texas and wearing the star is a huge win-win anyway you slice it. There is little chance it wouldn’t help Dallas tremendously with protecting Romo, running the ball more effectively, and turning the corner as a legitimate chain-moving offense.
At the same time, Dallas could use 2 of their top 3 draft picks on solidifying the starting defense (DT, safety), without concern of abandoning another offensive line need outside the one high pick used at guard.
Not to mention, Tyron Smith (22), the rookie guard, and Eric Winston (29) would all be starting together along the Cowboys’ o-line for 3 years at minimum.
This bold free agent addition could legitimately change the complexion of the Dallas offensive line for years to come.
Add another solid center/guard in the 2014 off-season, and it’s possible for Dallas to quickly possess a dominant, Top-10 caliber group. The implications of this decision stretch far beyond what most are considering. I just hope Jerry Jones and Cowboys’ management are taking this one seriously and finally glimpsing a ray of offensive line sanity.