The Dallas Cowboys biggest weakness in recent years has been the play of the offensive line. As a team that organizationally never drafts offensive linemen in Round 1 of the NFL Draft, they have now gone against this philosophy twice in the last three drafts. With the selections of Tyron Smith in 2011 and now Travis Frederick in 2013, the team has basically admitted at how poor the line has become by trying to address it early in the draft. Fans and critics alike still wonder why they didn’t continue to address it in Round 2 in the 2013 draft when the team instead opted to take another TE in Gavin Escobar. Hopefully for Cowboy fans, Escobar proves to be a stud and shuts everyone up.
The tackle positions on the team are set with Smith and Free, but the interior of the line is where the team is trying to decide which combination of players works best. With Frederick locked into one of the spots (most likely center), the left guard position is considered the weakest link with Nate Livings as last year’s starter and incumbent for the job currently. The team signed Ron Leary after the 2012 draft as an undrafted free agent. Leary had a mid-round grade predraft, but slipped due to a degenerative knee condition. While Leary missed the first week of camp due to injury, Leary has returned this week and reportedly has looked very good in camp.
If Leary can beat out Livings in camp, Leary (24) would be another youthful piece on this rebuilding offensive line the team could plug in. Another benefit would be that the Cowboys could follow that move up with the release of Livings (31) and continue to clean up their salary cap after giving him a 5 yr/$18.75 million contract in the spring of 2012. Livings guaranteed money is $6.2 million, of which included a $3.5 million signing bonus. Livings base salaries going forward are $1.7 (2013), $3.4 (2014), $4.4 (2015), $4.75 (2016). It looks as if the team would just take a hit on the $1.7 million that is left guaranteed, and only half of that would go on the 2014 salary cap calculation.
Leary signed a 3yr/$1.45 million contract in 2012 that he is now entering year 2. Leary can be the piece going forward until a better option presents itself, possibly in the 2014 draft. Clearing Livings money from the cap can free money the team will need to resign Sean Lee and Dez Bryant who both will soon be commanding big money extensions. This will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on for the next 30 days.
Follow Craig Cortemeglia on Twitter at @ccortemegliaTLH