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Multiple Roles Must Be Replaced On The O-Line


(Editor's Note: With the NFL Draft fast approaching, is taking a comprehensive look at each position on the roster: free agency additions, departures, and what the draft might hold. Today, we continue the series with the offensive line.)

Need Meter (1 lowest, 5 highest): 3

Depth Check: Even with center Travis Frederick's retirement, the Cowboys have an offensive line core most teams envy: two perennial Pro Bowlers (left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin) and a potential all-star (right tackle La'el Collins). The team also liked left guard Connor Williams' progress in Year 2 before he tore his ACL against the Bills on Thanksgiving.

There's a nice combination of youth and experience on the roster for new offensive line coach Joe Philbin, but three roles must be replaced: center, manned by Frederick for six of the past seven years; swing tackle, vacated by Cameron Fleming's move to the Giants; and backup guard now that Xavier Su'a-Filo is a Bengal.

The Cowboys do have in-house options. At center, Joe Looney looks like the most logical choice right now. He started 16 games two years ago while Frederick battled Guillain-Barre syndrome. Veteran Adam Redmond also returns, and last year's third-round pick Connor McGovern can play center or guard. A healthy McGovern (he missed last year with a pectoral injury) could offset Xavier Su'a-Filo's departure. At swing tackle, the frontrunner might be Brandon Knight, an undrafted rookie last year who made a spot start at right tackle against the Jets.

Prospect Preview: Tackle is the strength of this year's offensive line class, featuring at least three potential top-10 prospects: Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Alabama's Jedrick Wills and Iowa's Tristan Wirfs. Given other needs on the Cowboys' roster, tackle depth might not be a potential focus until the later rounds. Center is an intriguing position because a starting job is available now. The Cowboys' aforementioned veterans reduce the urgency to reach, but given Frederick's value to the line the past several years, it can't be ruled out as a potential draft focus. Most outside observers say LSU's Lloyd Cushenberry and Michigan's Cesar Ruiz are the top prospects. Both are getting some first-round buzz but might not go off the board until sometime on Day 2.

Memorable Pick: Let's take a moment to appreciate Frederick's career. He made five Pro Bowls in six healthy seasons and was the heartbeat of a highly productive offensive line. It's easy to forget how many criticized his draft slot in 2013. The Cowboys traded back from No. 18 to 31 to take Frederick, and in the process, picked up an extra third-round pick to select wide receiver Terrance Williams, also a future starter. The reviews said Frederick was a major reach. In hindsight, the Cowboys got one of the best NFL linemen of the past decade at the very end of Round 1.

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