Dallas Cowboys: Offensive or defensive line a bigger priority?

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 23: Philip Rivers
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 23: Philip Rivers /

The Dallas Cowboys face an easy decision when deciding between offensive linemen or defensive linemen in the 2018 NFL Draft.

There’s really no debate that football games are won in the trenches – the Dallas Cowboys know this fact better than anybody. Last season’s disappointing record of 9-7 can be attributed to many things, like the absence of Ezekiel Elliott, the fading of Dez Bryant or the regression of Dak Prescott.

But there’s another answer that tops each of those issues.

Both the offensive and defensive lines.

You can have all-world talent at the skill positions, but if you’re lacking in the trenches it really won’t matter.

The Dallas Cowboys face issues on both the offensive and defensive fronts for a number of reasons, but a big question worth debating is which one is a bigger priority in terms of new personnel heading into 2018.

There’s no easy answer here, but I would certainly say that the defensive line is the greater priority.

Offensive guard Zack Martin is about to become the highest paid player at his position. Center Travis Frederick is locked up for the foreseeable future. Left tackle Tyron Smith will play his entire career with the Cowboys.

Each of those offensive linemen were first round draft picks and all were acquired after 2010. Smith is the ‘old man’ of the group, despite still being only 27-years old. If you’ve got three first-round talents on the offensive line then you’re looking pretty good. This unit has created two NFL rushing champions over the last three seasons and, while needing some attention, is still poised to enable a great offense for years to come.

But wait – there’s more.

I’ve yet to mention the youngest of the ‘Great Wall of Dallas,’ right tackle/guard La’el Collins. This three-year veteran out of LSU went undrafted pending his questioning in a murder investigation of an ex-girlfriend in 2015 that prevented his selection in the first or second round – bizarre circumstances, but what a blessing for the Cowboys. Collins in under contract through 2019 and I’d be surprised to see him playing anywhere else during the prime of his career.

Now, that’s four out of five starting blockers on the offensive line that either were first-round picks or would have been picked in the same round.

Yes, the Cowboys need to address the left guard position if Collins stays at right tackle. Or the franchise could move Collins back inside to left guard if a player like Orlando Brown, for example, looked attractive with that 19th-overall selection in the first round of the coming draft.

But to think that the defensive line is in anywhere near as good of shape is ludicrous. Even if we assume that the Dallas Cowboys will retain both DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving for the long-term future, there’s still holes to fill and certainly depth to acquire upfront on that side of the ball. Whether you think that run-stuffing defensive tackle must be addressed or that all-important right defensive end just isn’t there, you’ve got two serious areas of concern moving ahead.

Maliek Collins and Tyrone Crawford certainly bring some talent for the future, provided that the Cowboys decide to keep paying the latter a pretty hefty salary in the coming seasons.

You think Randy Gregory is going to come back anytime soon? I sure don’t, and even if he applies for reinstatement who’s to say how long he’ll be around or how impactful he’ll be.

Also remember that recent free-agent acquisitions line Stephen Paea, Damontre Moore and Cedric Thornton didn’t amount to anything more than short-term stopgaps over the last couple of seasons.

Feel that vacuum?

There’s no question that the Dallas Cowboys defensive line, at least as we know it right now, is a far greater priority this offseason. We’ll see very soon if there’s any significant free-agent impact upfront, but that’s not likely given the budget allotted to the Dallas Cowboys at this time. It’s not like free agency is even the best idea when it comes to building a championship football team in the first place.

Next: 2018 NFL Mock Draft - Full first round

The Dallas defense is closer than some realize to being a really good unit – it’s not bad right now. The 2018 NFL Draft in the back yard of America’s Team is where the tide has to turn and that must take place as soon as the Cowboys go on the clock.