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Back & Forth: Can One Draft Fix The O-Line?


FRISCO, Texas - With the 2022 NFL Draft just more than a week away, this is time where NFL teams usually hit the pause button for a moment.

Of course, the door isn't closed, but this is the stretch of year where NFL teams, including the Cowboys, are knee-deep in preparations for adding a new draft class.

For the most part, the dust has settled for now, knowing it will pick up significantly on April 28, the start of the draft. So let's look back at each position, with a free-agent recap, and look ahead to see if there's more left to do.

Today, we'll wrap the series up with an in-depth look at the offensive line.

What Happened:

  • It's been an offseason of losses for an offensive line that was already a problem spot in 2021 – a fact that has caused plenty of consternation among outsiders. The Cowboys' run game sputtered throughout the second half of the season, exposing some of their deficiencies as a unit. If that wasn't troubling enough, watching get Dak Prescott get sacked five times in the playoff loss to San Francisco emphasized the need for upgrades.
  • Suffice to say, it hasn't happened as of yet. Connor Williams departed for Miami at the outset of free agency, signing a two-year, $14 million deal with the Dolphins. That loss, while expected, left Connor McGovern and Matt Farniok as the only viable options at the open left guard spot.
  • Shortly afterward, longtime right tackle La'el Collins was released, with the Cowboys citing salary cap concerns. Collins was designated a post-June 1 cut, which will free up $10 million of salary cap space later this spring. That decision leaves Tyron Smith and Terence Steele as the only offensive tackles with regular season experience on the roster.

What's Next:

It felt logical enough to guess the Cowboys' next move after losing Collins and Williams. The standard procedure would have been to sign an affordable, capable veteran who could step into that space if need be, while also not costing enough against the cap to affect their draft decisions. We've seen the front office employ this strategy time and time again – including this year, as the additions of James Washington and Dante Fowler Jr. fit that plan to a T.

Somewhat surprisingly, it hasn't happened. More than a month has passed since the new league year began, and the Cowboys have opted to sit pat on their current roster.

There are a few plausible explanations for that. For starters, perhaps they feel a higher degree of confidence in their existing veterans. McGovern and Farniok both got extensive playing time last season, and the front office also spent a fourth-round pick on Josh Ball last spring. That alone gives them three young players who can compete for snaps.

It's also worth remembering that free agency lasts for more than a month. While they might not be enticing names, there are veteran guards and tackles available on the open market right now, and it's at least possible an addition or two could be coming before the offseason program and OTAs really ramp up.

Of course, that's burying the obvious storyline – the 2022 NFL Draft. With less than a week to go before the festivities begin, it seems obvious the Cowboys intend to do some serious work on their offensive line with this group of 2022 draft picks.

Feeling A Draft?

How obvious is it, exactly? Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones was asked about drafting an offensive lineman in the first three rounds last month at the NFL owners' meetings. As response, he quipped that it would take some extraordinary circumstances – like a CeeDee Lamb or a Micah Parsons falling into his lap – to keep it from happening.

"Famous last words: We'll get one unless Lamb or Parsons is there." Jones said. "And then add one more to it, and then we might."

It's impossible to predict exactly how the draft will play out, but the Cowboys' need is undeniable. At this moment, it'd be easy to make the case that guard is the biggest hole on their roster. Considering Tyron Smith's long history of injuries, it also goes without saying that they could use some depth at the tackle position.

Does that mean an offensive lineman will be the pick at No. 24? It seems like as good a bet as any. Texas A&M's Kenyon Green, Boston College's Zion Johnson and even Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum are all names to know in the first round. Maybe it's even possible that things get whacky on Thursday night and the Cowboys wind up with a tackle like Mississippi State's Charles Cross or Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning.

There are also eight more picks to make after that. Maybe they'll look elsewhere in the first round and wind up with Kentucky's Darian Kinnard or Tulsa's Tyler Smith, instead.

The possibilities can make your head spin, and there's no use trying to predict a specific name. But what does seem obvious is that the Cowboys have left themselves some work to do on the offensive line this year, and they look likely to address the situation with draft picks.

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