FRISCO, Texas - If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. That's a phrase that can be used often in any circumstance, but especially in football, where the NFL is driven by parity every season.
The Cowboys were able to make a run and get into the playoffs, winning the NFC East for the third time in five seasons. But even owner/GM Jerry Jones has made it clear, his team needs to keep improving and take its success to the next level.
So as we head into the 2019 offseason, let's look at each position on the team, and just what needs to transpire so the Cowboys can indeed, take that next step.
Today, we'll break down the Dallas offensive line.
His Next Step?
All eyes are on Travis Frederick and the literal steps he's taking toward his recovery from Guillan-Barré Syndrome. The Cowboys' All-Pro center shocked the NFL last summer when he revealed he'd been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, in which the body's immune system attacks its nervous system. Thankfully, Frederick's diagnosis came early after he experienced symptoms during training camp – but it was still a concern that kept him off the field for the duration of the 2018 season. Six months out from the diagnosis, all the reports are that Frederick is on track to return to the field. As recently as last week, he said he was hopeful he'd be able to participate in the offseason program. Frederick is easily one of the Cowboys' best players and a vital cog in the offense – something that his season-long absence showcased. If he can return to his Pro Bowl form in 2019, it could be one of the biggest developments of the entire year.
Their Next Step?
Frederick's return would be one step back toward something that was missing last year – continuity. The Cowboys were without their starting center all year, they cycled between two different left guards, they fired their offensive line coach at midseason. Even Zack Martin, the All-Pro mainstay at right guard, dealt with injuries and missed his first career game. It was strange, as we've come to know this as the unit that is always together, always the same. It's always said that chemistry is so important to an offensive line, and hopefully that'll work in their favor in 2019. Marc Colombo, who was re-signed as the full-time offensive line coach after an interim stint, will be a big part of that. Colombo was a five-year starter in Dallas and has great relationships with all of his players here. Bringing an All-Pro in Frederick back to the huddle would also be huge. This is a group that thrived off continuity and chemistry for years, and 2019 presents an opportunity to get back to that.
Decisions to Make?
There are a couple, and they both revolve around Connor Williams. The second-round draft pick had growing pains, but he handled himself well as a rookie. He also got hurt, and veteran free agent Xavier Su'a-Filo played well in his absence. That presents the question: who wins the job in 2019? Su'a-Filo was a second-round draft pick himself back in 2014, and playing between talents like Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick could help him tap into his talents. Or the coaching staff could go forward with its plan to develop Williams, a left tackle in college, into a guard. That also raises the possibility of switching Williams' position. There's been chatter since August that perhaps Williams' best place is at tackle, where he played so well in college. There's been no indication that the Cowboys intend to make that switch, but this is the time of year those decisions typically get made. Regardless, the coming months will allow them to decide who starts at left guard – and whether they need to make any changes.
In the short-term, Cameron Fleming is set to hit free agency in a few weeks. The veteran tackle played 233 offensive snaps as the Cowboys' swing tackle, and he handled himself well in two starts while Tyron Smith was out injured. One way or another, they'll need to replace him. The long-term is worth thinking about, though. Smith is 28 and has been limited by injury in three straight seasons. La'el Collins is entering a contract year and isn't guaranteed to be here beyond 2019. Is this the time to address the future stability of the position? Perhaps the Cowboys could draft someone to be this year's swing tackle, grooming him to take over as a starter in the future. Or maybe they'll just add another veteran free agent for the time being. As mentioned above, they could always consider trying Connor Williams on the outside. However they want to play it, they'll need to add a third offensive tackle – either for the short-term, the long-term or both.