How does Travis Frederick’s retirement change the Cowboys draft plans?

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

After Travis Frederick’s shocking pre-draft retirement leaves an unexpected void, how will this news impact the Dallas Cowboys’ draft strategy in 2020?

In 1979, the Dallas Cowboys drafted center Robert Shaw in the first round. Two years later, America’s Team selected another first-round offensive lineman: guard Howard Richards. Regular injuries hindered Richards and Shaw’s promising careers. Richards played in only 69 games over seven seasons, and Shaw appeared in 33 games before his career ended after just three seasons.

Dallas waited thirty years drafting another lineman in the first round, selecting left tackle Tyron Smith seventh overall in 2011. He proved to be a wise choice, getting named to the 2011 NFL All-Rookie Team. The Cowboys waited only two years before grabbing another first-round lineman, center Travis Frederick, in 2013 and added right guard Zack Martin in the first round the following year. Like Smith, Frederick and Martin were named to the NFL All-Rookie Team.

Smith, Frederick, and Martin have headlined an offensive line regularly deemed the best in the NFL. In addition to their rookie accolades, the three have combined for 18 Pro Bowl selections plus seven AP First-Team All-Pro selections and six AP Second-Team All-Pro awards. They also cleared paths to three rushing titles. They’ve earned these honors despite having three different offensive line coaches and three different offensive coordinators.

Smith earned his first Pro Bowl selection and first AP Second-Team All-Pro honors after Frederick joined the Cowboys in 2013. He was again selected to the Pro Bowl and was recognized as an AP First-Team All-Pro once Martin was added. In 2014, Frederick duplicated Smith’s previous year (Pro Bowl and AP Second-Team All-Pro selections). Martin grabbed his first Pro Bowl appearance and joined Smith on the AP All-Pro First Team. The three first-rounders haven’t just been good individually; as a unit, they’ve propelled each other to greatness.

Now, Frederick’s gone. The Three Musketeers are two. Only two wise men remain. There will be Snap and Pop but no more Crackle. After recovering from Guillain-Barré syndrome in 2018, Frederick played only one season before unexpectedly and abruptly announcing his retirement on March 23.

Isn’t it funny how a man who caused such a stir when drafted could cause an equally sensational stir by announcing his early retirement? The Cowboys were roasted in 2013 for drafting Frederick in the first round.

For example, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Bales graded Dallas an A for trading back in the first round and gaining a third-round pick but a D+ for drafting Frederick. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was quoted as saying he had a third-round grade on the center. While Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller went on the record saying he hated the pick.

Six seasons later, Frederick’s 2018 absence underscored his value to the Cowboys. In five seasons, he exceeded the third-round grade so many had given him. Now, his retirement has commanded headlines once again. How does Dallas replace a perennial Pro Bowler?

CBS Sports’ Patrik Walker doesn’t consider replacing Frederick an immediate need for America’s Team, suggesting offensive lineman Joe Looney filled in well for Frederick in 2018. Walker also counts Connor McGovern, who played some center at Penn State, as a possible successor. McGovern started 13 games at center his sophomore year, but he played all but one game at right guard before declaring for the NFL draft after his junior season. Both Looney and McGovern seem like patchwork options when compared to Frederick.

Dallas has resigned 29-year-old Looney to a one-year deal. However, Dallas could decide to select a true center in the first round of this year’s draft. It would make sense, especially while Looney is available as a versatile backup for the offensive line, and if the team is high on McGovern, why not develop him at guard in case Zack Martin or Connor Williams get injured?

There are five centers in this year’s draft that the Cowboys might consider quality options: Cesar Ruiz (Michigan), Lloyd Cushenburry (LSU), Matt Hennessey (Temple), Nick Harris (Washington), and Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin). Biadasz, like Frederick, is a Wisconsin center stirring a wide range of draft grades. Grades range from first round to third round according to Fox Sports Wisconsin’s published collection of post-Combine grades for Wisconsin players.

It begs the question of where the Cowboys grade Biadasz. Dallas surprised many with their high opinion of Frederick, and it proved to be a great opinion. Not only did Frederick become one of the best centers in the NFL but the Cowboys didn’t risk losing him by waiting until the second or third round.

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If they don’t value Biadasz as a first-round option, is there a center such as Ruiz or Cushenburry that they would consider in the first round? I hope so. After all, it has been the linemen drafted in the first round—and only the linemen drafted in the first round—who have been decorating their homes with performance awards. With that in mind, it seems anchoring the line with a patchwork center may leave fans missing their All-Pro even more than we already do.