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High Low

High Low: Cowboys' OL issues ignite draft urgency


FRISCO, Texas — When the latest offseason got underway, one of the most important decisions the Dallas Cowboys were faced with was the future of left tackle Tyron Smith. The future Hall of Famer had a resurgent 2023 season, thanks in large part to head coach Mike McCarthy's practice regimen for him — which involved mostly not practicing him at all — and it ultimately led to Smith taking his talents to the New York Jets on a larger offer.

His departure helps to throw the offensive line into further disarray heading into the 2024 NFL Draft, seeing as starting center Tyler Biadaz has also packed up and left, following former Dan Quinn to the Washington Commanders.

Make no mistake about it, there's trouble afoot if Dallas can't immediately find the right answers in their offensive trenches, because it's more than simply putting bodies on the field — they need bodies who can consistently move other bodies.

And that creates an intense level of urgency in this year's draft.

The brand-new series "High Low" dives into it, with each edition to follow focusing on a different position group leading up to draft week.

Odds: Extremely High

  • Tyler Smith: There's a million-dollar question swirling around the status of Smith for the 2024 season, and that's if he'll remain as the team's starting left guard or if he'll be moved to left tackle in the wake of Tyron Smith taking his talents to Gang Green. A large determinant in this decision will be what the Cowboys are able to walk away with in this year's draft, but head coach Mike McCarthy remains reluctant to move Smith from a position that earned him both Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in his first full season there — rightfully so.
  • Zack Martin: I've said it earlier in the offseason and am still intrigued in how it's not become a topic of discussion, though I feel it will be one in the near future and, as such, I'll say it again: it's time to plan for the post-Martin era. All eyes being on Tyron Smith's future for years now left Martin in the shadow of that conversation but the future Hall of Fame guard will turn 34 before he takes the field on Thanksgiving, and is only secured through 2025. Stop ignoring this, folks.
  • Terence Steele: Secured to a contract extension last September and now fully healthy from a torn ACL that ended his 2022 season, Steele is all set to be the Cowboys' starter at right tackle for years to come. At his best, pre-injury and in flashes last season as he worked his way back to form, he's a more-than-capable starter in the NFL and, for the Cowboys, he's at least making sure they only have to concern themselves with fixing one of their tackle positions in 2024.
  • Chuma Edoga: Back on a one-year deal for a second consecutive season, Edoga apparently showed enough to the front office and coaching staff in his first stint to lead them to calling upon him for a second go-round. He did help save them in a pinch early in the season, due to several injuries across the offensive line, including Tyron Smith, forcing him to take reps at both left tackle and left guard. He'd look much better when performing as the latter, however, and I believe the Cowboys are not only still in need of defining their swing tackle position, but Edoga is also very much in competition with two rapid-risers behind him.
  • TJ Bass, Brock Hoffman: Those two rapid-risers are Bass and Hoffman, who were flat-out impressive as rookies, all things considered. These are two undrafted talents (Hoffman via the Browns in 2022 and Bass via the Cowboys in 2023) who were thrown into the fire last season and cost Dallas no games whatsoever. They performed as if they've been starters for awhile now, leading many (hi, I'm also in the many) to ponder how to get them onto the field more, but without having to move Tyler Smith to achieve that goal. But with Tyler Biadasz now in Washington, a throne at center is available to be won through trial by combat, assuming the Cowboys don't draft one with a premium pick — a distinct possibility. (P.S. Remember the post-Martin era I keep bringing to your attention? Keep an eye on Bass as a successor.)
  • Asim Richards, Matt Waletzko: These are the next two players in line to challenge for the role of swing tackle in 2024. Could they be more? Sure, if Richards can figure out a way to get a single rep in Year 2 after being awarded none as a rookie and if Waletzko's shoulders stop derailing his otherwise promising progress. These are two former fifth-round picks who have high upside but who have also yet to contribute, but speaking to Richards specifically, seeing him allow virtually no sacks at tackle in his days with the Tar Heels has me truly wondering what he can be at the NFL level.
  • Josh Ball, Dakoda Shepley, Earl Bostick Jr.: Ball continues to try and figure his way into a meaningful NFL career. He's now had three seasons with the Cowboys and much of that time has been spent on injured reserve, struggling to perform at both left and right tackle (hence the signing of Jason Peters in 2022) before being moved to guard in 2023, where his season ended in late August due to a hip injury. Shepley and Bostick are both also scratching and clawing for acknowledgement this summer, as this three-pack of backups try to climb a steep hill in 2024.

Heading into the draft, the only sure things on the Cowboys' offensive line are right tackle, right guard (but that's only for now) and left guard (unless he's moved to left tackle). They've been in this position before and it led to the drafting of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick in a span of only four drafts.

Tyler Smith is likely the new Tyron Smith, in regards to sparking the sequel to that original script from 2011, and not necessarily in taking over his specific position (we shall see).

Bottom line, though? This is an uncomfortable amount of unrest at the most important area of any football team, and it has to be the highest priority for the Cowboys when they go on the clock in late April.

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