16) What Does The Future Hold For The O-Line?

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(Football season is finally approaching. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 25. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2019.)

FRISCO, Texas – The offensive line has long been the foundation of the Cowboys’ roster. 2018 was a challenging year, however.

Travis Frederick’s illness. Injuries to three starters. A midseason position coach change.

Now Frederick is working his way back to the field, the line is healthy, and last year’s second-round pick Connor Williams looks poised for a step forward. The team also drafted former Penn State standout Connor McGovern in the third round, adding more depth for new full-time position coach Marc Colombo.

What does 2019 and beyond look like for the offensive line? That’s the next installment in our 20 Questions series.

Bryan Broaddus: My Cowboys Crystal Ball tells me that after this season La’el Collins will be moving on to a bigger contract, which will leave a void at right tackle. Connor Williams will have a nice season at left guard but will make the switch to tackle for 2020. When this happens, McGovern will be the likely replacement for Williams at guard after a season of being inactive each week to develop. It has to be a good feeling for the front office that there’s not a pressing need to McGovern to have to play right away. The question of the backups will also have to be addressed in 2020 when Joe Looney is set to be a free agent and Adam Redmond a restricted free agent. How they operate around that will likely be addressed with who is on the practice squad this season or the draft.

Rob Phillips: As we look to the immediate future, Frederick’s return is the primary factor here. After sitting out all season with Guillain-Barre syndrome, he began working back into practice this offseason and expects to put the pads on in Oxnard. Frederick has acknowledged that training camp will be the best gauge for his progress, but he’s hit every benchmark to date in his recovery from the auto-immune disease. I think his presence can help the Cowboys’ last-ranked production in goal-to-goal situations and their overall pass protection. The line improved in this area after Colombo’s promotion, but only the Texans gave up more sacks than the Cowboys (56 total) in 2018.

David Helman: They might not want to admit it, but the Cowboys sent a pretty clear message about their future when they drafted McGovern. That decision shines a pretty bright light on Collins, who is entering the final year of the two-year extension he signed back in 2017. It’s not a knock on Collins. He has been solid more often than not from the time the team moved him out to tackle. But with the number of big contract looming on the Cowboys’ horizon, it doesn’t seem feasible to keep him in the fold. Given Williams’ college experience at tackle, he feels like a natural to play right tackle in the future, which obviously opens the left guard spot for McGovern. The biggest question for me is this: if you want Williams to play tackle in the future, why not move him now so that the learning curve isn’t as steep? Williams could play swing tackle in 2019 and move into a starting role next year, while McGovern, Looney or Xavier Su’a-Filo could play left guard for the time being. The future of the offensive line looks crystal clear from where I’m sitting, but the way the Cowboys get there will be something to watch.

Mickey Spagnola: The immediate future will be dependent on a successful return for Frederick after missing all of last season stricken with the debilitating Guillain-Barre Syndrome. While at this point in his recovery, all systems seem go for the four-time Pro Bowler, but even he concedes nothing will be proven until the pads come on – until there is contact during training camp. That will determine if he has totally recovered his football strength and explosion. If so, this offensive line will return to its dominating form. As for the distant future, like next year, that will be determined by Frederick’s return status and how well Collins plays. Improved play from last season might encourage the Cowboys to re-sign Collins, in the final year of his contract, to a reasonable long-term deal. If not, or if his price grows significantly, and the Cowboys allow him to walk, then there might be some shuffling around, and the club would probably consider moving either Williams or McGovern to tackle. But if Frederick struggles, one of those two guys could also move to center, with the other playing guard. It’s a fluid situation to say the least.

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