Editor's Note: The Cowboys currently have 20 players slated to enter free agency when the league year begins in March. Some of those players are key contributors, while others are role players. In this series, Bryan Broaddus will take a look at all 20 free agents, assessing how they performed in 2015 and how they might fit into the Cowboys' future.
IRVING, Texas – It's a well-known fact that the Cowboys have put a lot of resources into their offensive line.
Dallas is sending three linemen to the Pro Bowl later this month, and they have one of the most promising young rookies in the league in La'el Collins. More importantly, they're all secured for the foreseeable future. Tyron Smith is playing on a 10-year contract, while Travis Frederick and Zack Martin are first-round draft picks with team options for a five-year deal. Doug Free has two years remaining on the three-year deal he signed last spring, and the same can be said for Collins.
All of that said, there are several key contributors behind them with uncertain futures – and the Cowboys would do well to figure that out in the coming months. Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau have played well as both starters and backups in recent years, and Charles Brown was the team's swing tackle this season. He's not technically an offensive lineman, but James Hanna is this squad's best blocking tight end.
In part two of our free agency preview, let's take a look at the prospects for these four blockers heading into the spring.
Let's take a look:
2015 Performance:Leary was the starter for the first two games for the season. Didn't get out of the blocks well, and the coaching staff made the decision to go with La'el Collins in his place. I believe that his health had a hand in his poor play to start the year. He was never able to fully recover from the groin injury he suffered in training camp.
2016: Forecast:He's a restricted free agent and is at a bit of a crossroads here. The front office could tender him first or second round money and then hope that another club bites, then they choose the compensation or they could keep him for continued depth. For that second round tender – it will cost the club $2.3 million, but it gives them options.
2015 Performance:Bernadeau saw limited action in 2015, playing mainly when the starters were hurt. He started in Week 2 against Philadelphia after Leary strained his groin, and he entered the season finale against the Washington Redskins when both Leary and La'el Collins were injured. He filled in at guard and played well. Played with mobility and power. Was put in several situations where he had to handle blockers one-on-one and he as up to the task.
2016: Forecast:The one thing you know about Bernadeau is that he can line up and play center, which the other guards have not shown they can do. Zack Martin has worked at center during practice but has not played it in a game. With Bernadeau, the coaches have a comfort level with him and that could go a long way in working to re-sign him. The problem the front office faces in this decision is whether another team comes after him with the chance to start.
2015 Performance:Swing tackle that was nothing special as that point of attack blocker in "Heavy" or "Goal Line" packages. Never had to make an emergency start and that was for the good. Bridge player that allowed the coaching staff to keep Chaz Green on the shelf until the 2016 season.
2016: Forecast:Don't feel like there is anything to build on here. Green will get the first crack to compete with Doug Free on that right side or become the swing tackle replacing Brown.
2015 Performance:One of the most unrated players on the squad in terms of what he does as a point-of-attack blocker and special teamer. He was able to improve his strength and technique from the previous season and it showed up in his play. Worked very well with Jason Witten and the tackles when it came to creating space on the outside.
2016: Forecast:Hanna is such a quiet and easy going player that he might not appears as if he cares? But he has the physical ability and measurements to be a full-time tight end on this club. With the age of Jason Witten and the injury to Gavin Escobar – the tight end position is one that needs to be addressed. I feel like that they need to make an effort to bring him back.