(Editor's Note: As the NFL Draft approaches on April 25-27, DallasCowboys.com's Draft Series will analyze every position, the Cowboys' needs at each, which players might be targeted for their six picks and some interesting draft nuggets. Part 1 features offensive tackles.)
The Cowboys solidified the future of the left tackle position by grabbing Tyron Smith with a top 10 pick two years ago. They thought at the time that would help solidify the line, but they couldn't predict the troubles that would ensue for Doug Free when he switched to right tackle in 2012. Smith will be a mainstay on the line for years and years, but what happens with Free remains to be seen. He could stay on the roster or be designated as a June 1 release. The latter option would be more likely if the Cowboys bring in a free agent or use a top pick on a tackle.
If the Cowboys don't grab a player in free agency or early in the draft to bolster the offensive line, then they're likely looking at another competition at right tackle between Free and Jermey Parnell. The two tackles began rotating with each other toward the end of the season, and it seemed to help both players out. It would be unlikely to see the rotation continue throughout next season, but that would be one of the premier position battles in camp.
Free agent tackles Eric Winston, Andre Smith and the recently released Tyson Clabo could all be candidates for the Cowboys, though they may not have the money to dole out for a player like Smith. Former Chargers tackle Jared Gaither was also released at the end of March and could garner some attention if healthy.
The Cowboys reportedly have interest in Winston, who was a mainstay for six years on the Texans' line before heading to the Chiefs last year. If any one of these players goes to the Cowboys, that could spell an exit for Free.
Getting production out of draft picks on offensive tackles hasn't been easy for the Cowboys recently. Tyron Smith was a hit and at 22 years old, he should continue to get better in the coming years. But prior to Smith, the Cowboys last picks on offensive tackles were Sam Young in the sixth round in 2010 and Robert Brewster in the third round in 2009. The Cowboys needed tackles after the departure of Flozell Adams in 2009 and Marc Colombo in 2010, but neither of those draft picks is still on the team.
The Cowboys grabbed Free in the fourth round in 2007. How he responds to last season's struggles, and whether or not the Cowboys keep him at all, will have a major effect on this season's outcome. Both offensive tackle and guard could be viewed as a need in the upcoming draft, which should supply multiple first-round options at both positions.
People are now familiar with the top tackles in this draft, considering the plethora of players at the position that could go in the first round. Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan's Eric Fisher could be the first overall pick. Lane Johnson, an athletic and versatile tackle from Oklahoma, and D.J. Fluker, a powerful behemoth from Alabama, are also potential first round selections.
A variety of offensive tackles could also be selected on the second and third days of the draft. Bryan Broaddus has more on those players here.