Dallas Cowboys: Is swing tackle still a major need?
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line struggled with a depth problem last season. Does this fact mean the team will search for an upgrade at swing tackle?
Going into last season, it appeared the Dallas Cowboys offensive line was on the cusp of reestablishing themselves as the most dominate O-Line in the NFL. The group already featured three perennial Pro Bowlers in left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick. All of which are former first-round selections.
Starting right tackle La’el Collins appeared to be on a Pro Bowl track himself after finishing 2017 strong at his new position, moving over from left guard. Then Dallas surprised many by using their second-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft to catch a falling Connor Williams, an offensive lineman out of Texas several experts believed had the talent to be chosen on Day One.
But things did not go as planned for the Cowboys’ offensive line last season. Frederick ended up missing the entire year due to an autoimmune disease, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which sapped his strength. Williams started his first eight games as a rookie but then lost that role to a stronger Xavier Su’a-Filo following a knee injury.
Both Smith and Martin struggled with their own injuries, the latter forced to miss the first two games of his five-year career so far. And the overall play of the entire offensive line declined under new positional coach Paul Alexander, who was fired midseason and replaced by Marc Colombo.
And despite the solid play from reserves like center Joe Looney, swing tackle Cameron Fleming and the aforementioned Su’a-Filo, quarterback Dak Prescott was still sacked a whopping 56 times in 2018. That was the second most of any passer in the league last season.
But the Cowboys are hopeful 2019 will see much-improved line play. Frederick appears on pace to return this upcoming season, giving Dallas back their All-Pro centerpiece. There has been speculation that Looney played so well that the Cowboys may opt to start him at left guard. This would allow Williams to continue to strengthen and develop in his second season.
One area where the Cowboys may look to upgrade is the critical swing tackle position. Fleming, the former New England Patriots’ starter, was a bit of a disappointment in a backup role last year and is now scheduled to become a free agent. Here’s how Pro Football Focus broke down Fleming’s lone season in Dallas.
"“Fleming’s overall grade of 56.5 this past season ranks 72nd out of 85 qualifying offensive tackles. On 136 pass-blocking snaps, Fleming allowed nine total pressures (five hurries, two hits, two sacks). Out of three games that he started last season, he finished with an overall grade above 70.0 just once.”"
The word that likely best describes Fleming’s play in Dallas last season is underwhelming. When the Cowboys landed the two-time Super Bowl winner early into the free agency period last year, it appeared Dallas had finally found themselves a quality swing tackle. But the up-and-down nature of the 26-year old’s play could result in the Cowboys simply moving on this offseason and trying to land a better option.
Although some seem to believe Connor Williams could be an option, the Dallas Cowboys would likely benefit from a more experienced player assuming that critical swing tackle role. A few veteran names to watch next month when the free agent market opens are Jared Veldheer, Jake Fisher, Greg Robinson, Cedric Ogbuehi, Donovan Smith, LaAdrian Waddle, and Garry Gilliam.