Football analytics website Pro Football Focus believes the Dallas Cowboys offensive line’s play will decline after suffering two major losses this offseason.
The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most popular teams in the world. They are also known for being America’s Team. And just mentioning them sparks memories of some of the NFL’s greatest players like quarterback Roger Staubach and running back Emmitt Smith.
But in recent years, and especially among football circles, the Cowboys are likely known more for possessing one of the most dominate positional units in the NFL: Their offensive line. Consisting of three perennial Pro Bowlers, all of whom were first round selections in their individual drafts, Dallas’ O-line is at the very heart of the team’s recent resurgence.
But this offseason, the Cowboys offensive line suffered two significant losses. Although their trio of All-Pros remain intact, (left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick, and right guard Zack Martin) two members of last year’s starting squad will not return.
Longtime starting right tackle Doug Free decided this offseason to retire after ten years in Dallas. And former starting left guard Ronald Leary cashed in big via free agency and is now apart of the Denver Broncos.
Although both Free and Leary were considered the lesser lineman alongside the likes of Smith, Frederick and Martin, chemistry plays a huge part in an offensive line’s success. And their departure is the reason one football analytic website ranked the Cowboys O-line the ninth best in the league going into the 2017 regular season.
"“They’ve been the class of the league for so long, but a line can only survive so many hits,” Michael Renner wrote for Pro Football Focus recently. “Ronald Leary and Doug Free weren’t at the caliber of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, or Zack Martin, but they were quality players in their own right. The big question mark is La’el Collins moving to right tackle. Tackle was his more natural college position, but his below-average performance at guard isn’t too encouraging.”"
Collins, who would have likely been a first round selection himself, will apparently solidify the right tackle position vacated by Free after originally beating out Leary for the starting left guard spot. Many view his move to outside as a significant improvement for the team, but only time will tell.
The bigger concern comes at starting left guard. Although whomever occupies that spot will be anchored by two All-Pro to either side of him, his play could have negative repercussions on a team that features a second-year quarterback in Dak Prescott under center.
The current favorite to win the position is former first round selection Jonathan Cooper. The seventh overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals has had a disappointing professional career as it appears a leg injury he suffered during his rookie season has robbed him of some of his mobility. Since last March, the 27-year old has played for four different NFL teams.
If Cooper can prove himself this offseason, he could win a starting role on the league’s most dominate positional group. Other possible candidates for the left guard spot include Cowboys former third round selection Chaz Green and recent free agent signee Byron Bell.
Regardless, the core of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line remains the same. And any doubters of just how great they really are will likely be eating crow and ranking them atop the NFL’s best by year’s end.