With strong play from Bernadeau, and Tyron Smith as PFF’s fifth-ranked left tackle, and Free the fifth-ranked right tackle, and Frederick the seventh-ranked center, it’s easy to see how the Dallas offensive line grew in esteem as the season progressed. Bernadeau wasn’t simply along for the ride. Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of his second-half grades:
Bernadeau’s 2012 season was a disappointment. But remember he missed the entire offseason program after surgeries on his hip and knee. And then in 2013, he opened camp on the physically unable to perform list following shoulder surgery. Even though he enjoyed good health his first four years in the league with Carolina, during his two-year tenure in Dallas he’s never been quite right physically – until the second half of 2013. Bernadeau was finally healthy and fully acclimated to offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s zone blocking scheme. For the first time in his Cowboys career, we got to see what he could do. Your eyes weren’t lying – he was good.
The 6’4”, 330-pound guard will be 28 years old this season, and will count less than $3 million against the cap in 2014 and again in 2015. Bernadeau took a paycut in March, shaving about $1.1 million off his 2014 cap figure without pushing it into future seasons. Credit where credit is due: Bernadeau is in his prime production years and he’s playing like it. GM Jerry Jones still managed to cut his pay and has him under contract until he turns 30.
To what can we attribute Bernadeau’s improved play? Is it because he’s finally healthy? Is it because he’s mastered the scheme? Is it because he’s playing next to Fredbeard? Is it the effect of Waters’ mentoring? Well, who cares? None of that’s changing in 2014, assuming he avoids injury. Try not to be too disappointed if the Cowboys don’t draft a stud right guard next week. If the last eight games are any indication, the Cowboys already have one in Mackenzy Bernadeau.
The much older, more costly, and more erratic Doug Free will be a free agent in 2015. I’m all on board with spending premium draft assets on the offensive line. The team should certainly lock up a premium guard if one falls to them. And regardless of what tight end Gavin Escobar might develop into, I’ll likely still daydream about how sexy Detroit guard Larry Warford would look with a star on his helmet. A great line makes every skill position player better. But if the Cowboys are ranking needs for next week’s draft, they should look at tackle before selecting a guard.