FRISCO, Texas – The month of February is always the transition period from one season to the next. The 2019 season is in the rearview mirror, especially with a brand-new coaching staff in place.
The next step for the team is player personnel, which mostly takes place in March with the start of free agency. The first day of the new league year is March 18, although the Cowboys will have several other decisions to make before then, thanks to 25 unrestricted free agents.
Before we get too far down the road, let's take an overview at each position, finding out what they've got, what they need and some big decisions to make.
Today, we'll break down the offensive line.
Coach In Charge: Joe Philbin
This is another position group that is making a leap in experience. Marc Colombo did a solid job with the offensive line these last two years, but it was still his first coaching gig.
Philbin comes to Dallas with 35 years of coaching experience, and 24 of them involved coaching the offensive line. Suffice to say, he's been here before. With that type of resume, he shouldn't have a hard time earning the respect of this decorated group. Though, to hear it from him, that won't stop him from working for it.
"That relationship and that trust, it takes time. It doesn't happen overnight, and I don't expect it to," Philbin said. "Some of these guys have very very accomplished backgrounds, and you have to earn the respect of the players. I think you do that, No. 1 by showing them that you care about them, and No. 2 that you're prepared and professional and the game is important to you as a coach, as well."
What They Have: Proven Production
The Cowboys' offensive line has not always lived up to its amazing reputation in recent years. But there's no denying that most teams in the NFL would love to have this group of players. At just 29 years of age, Tyron Smith is coming off his seventh Pro Bowl selection and is still one of the very best left tackles in football. Zack Martin is a model of consistency and arguably the best guard in the NFL, while Travis Frederick bounced back admirably after missing the 2018 season with Gullain-Barré Syndrome. La'el Collins signed a major contract extension prior to the 2019 season, and he lived up to it by blossoming into one of the most dependable right tackles in the league.
That's not to say everything is perfect with the Cowboys' offensive line, but they do have some talented, proven players manning their front.
Immediate Need: Depth
Some will say the Cowboys need to figure out their left guard situation, but they have the talent necessary to sort that out. Connor Williams is the incumbent starter, and Connor McGovern should be healthy and ready to push for playing time in his second season.
What they don't have is proven depth to insure them against injuries – which have been a serious problem in recent years. Joe Looney and Xavier Su'a-Filo are both headed for free agency, which means the Cowboys have no proven depth at center or guard. Cameron Fleming has a team option on his contract, and Brandon Knight is still around. But recurring injuries at the tackle position have highlighted a need to upgrade that spot if possible. It would be a relief to know there's a solid option to fill in for either Smith or Collins if something happens.
Biggest Question: Can they stay healthy?
This has been a recurring issue since 2017, and it doesn't look likely to go away as this core group of linemen gets older.
Smith has developed a laundry list of problems dating back the last few years, from his back to his knee to his neck to his elbow. As a result, he has missed three games in each of the last four seasons. When he's healthy he is still one of the best left tackles in the game, but it's fair at this point to wonder about his durability.
The same can be said for Collins, Frederick and Martin, though to a lesser degree. Frederick battled back from an autoimmune disease in impressive fashion after it cost him the entire 2018 season. Martin has battled back problems in recent years, and he had ankle surgery after the 2019 season. Collins missed a start with a back injury of his own, forcing rookie tackle Brandon Knight into the lineup.
The bottom line is that this group is one of the best in the league when everyone's healthy and everything's clicking. But for a variety of reasons, that hasn't been the case the past few years. It's not the biggest concern facing this Cowboys roster in 2020, but it's a problem that needs to be monitored moving forward.