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Open Market: Options for interior of Cowboys' O-line


(Note: The content provided is based on opinions and/or perspective of the editorial staff and not the Cowboys football staff or organization.)

FRISCO, TX — Now that we've spoken to what's going on with the offensive tackle position, including an outlook **on pending free agent Tyron Smith**, it's time to devote just as much energy to figuring out what's going on the interior of that very same Dallas Cowboys' offensive line.

Last summer's training camp was headlined by contract negotiations, some deals being closed without a hitch in the stride while another, namely Zack Martin's, was anything but.

One holdout and a new reworked deal later, the future Hall of Fame right guard was back in attendance but, one year later, well … let's talk about that and plenty more — as the Cowboys find themselves with questions at starting center and, for now, the role of backup guard.

FYI: Be sure to check out the entire ‘What’s Next?' series as a primer to this one.

What's Here:

Zack Martin: I broached an uncomfortable topic when I wrote a recent ‘What’s Next?’ column dissecting the interior of the offensive line, and the question mark will only glow brighter as the next several months roll along — unless a contract extension is signed with the future Hall of Fame right guard before 2025. It's time to begin discussing the post-Martin era alongside the post-[Tyron] Smith one, seeing as the former is heading into a contract year in 2024.

Martin will also be 34 years old before the next season concludes, and though he's still every bit still arguably the best at his position, he's fought through more injury (thankfully minor) lately than in his usual ironman past. He was a camp holdout in 2023 to ensure a pay raise, and received it, but without any actual years having been added (void years only from 2025 through 2027).

It would be unthinkable to not extend Martin from both a production and need standpoint, and to guarantee he retires a Cowboy, so I see it happening before he ever sniffs free agency; but you can never guarantee it.

Either way, the situation highlights just how important depth is right now on the offensive line interior.

Tyler Biadasz: The team's starting center, on the other hand, isn't under contract at all for 2024 and beyond — an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his young NFL career when the league year opens on March 13. If the Cowboys don't come to terms on a new deal for the former Pro Bowl (2022) center, they'll find themselves immediately looking for an upgrade, possibly in both free agency, on the current roster and with a premium pick in the draft.

That's because they can't afford to take a step back at such a critical position, and need to cover all of their bases, and this is also where a player like Brock Hoffman comes into play. Despite being undrafted out of Virginia Tech in 2022, the 24-year-old stepped into multiple roles on the interior O-line when needed in 2023, and was impressive in doing so. Absent Biadasz in 2024, Hoffman will get a frontrunner's shot at taking over the position, though his battle would become much more uphill if a premium pick is used at the position in April.

The terrific news for the Cowboys is that while the future of Martin and Biadasz aren't concrete, having newly-named All-Pro Tyler Smith at left guard for the foreseeable future and emerging talent such as T.J. Bass has to make them feel great, especially seeing as it wasn't long ago (last summer, to be specific) when O-line depth was a major problem.

It isn't anymore, but things change, so prepare for them accordingly (e.g., even Asim Richards will see some interior work this summer).

What's Out There:

Note: These players will be unrestricted on March 13, barring a newly-signed deal with their incumbent team prior to that date.

Quick note: I'm going to admittedly focus more on the center position in free agency, carrying that much confidence in the young, robust and emerging talent at both left and right guard behind Tyler Smith and Zack Martin.

Connor Williams: I mean, since Dallas is in the mood for reunions (e.g., Mike Zimmer, La'el Collins), why not take another look at Williams, 27, who went from working his way up to the role of starting left guard with the Cowboys to a thriving center on the high-powered Dolphins' offensive line. There's familiarity here, obviously, that would allow Williams to step in quickly and make an impact as the starting center in Dallas, should Biadasz and the team part ways.

Also, Williams is a Dallas native (Coppell, TX) who would be literally coming home.

The downside here is that Williams suffered a torn ACL in late 2023 that he's currently working his way back from, so there's a chance he starts training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but that might also lower his asking price as well. His film also rivals what Biadasz did in 2023, even bettering him as a run blocker at times; and that matters for a Cowboys' offense looking to improve its ground attack.

Andre James: Unlike Williams, a former second-round pick, James is an undrafted talent that landed in the league out of UCLA in 2019, by way of the Las Vegas Raiders though, like Williams, he worked his way into a starting role. The 26-year-old has 49 starts under his belt, with 48 of them being logged over the past three seasons.

A high-quality starting center, I simply wonder what his asking price will be, considering it doesn't appear the Raiders are content to let him leave. It's worth finding out, though, but not until first speaking with Williams — who I view as a better option, production-wise and possibly price-wise as well — but if you're looking for a veteran starter, James is an option.

Lloyd Cushenberry III: Superb name that invokes images of a British Duke aside, Cushenberry is worth a look. He's had his struggles in Denver, yes, but it feels like that was due mostly to the carousel of coaching staffs he's been relegated to learning from since entering the league in 2020. I really do like his skill set, one anchored in exactly that: a great anchor; and one that includes a lot of strength in his big, heavy hands.

There are better run blockers in free agency at center, Williams being one of them, but I could also argue that Cushenberry bests Williams in pass protection. A former third-round pick out of LSU (also a national champion), the 26-year-old is no stranger to playing under the brightest of lights (hi, Dallas) and was also named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team in his first year, despite some struggles — a testament to his ceiling being high.

Ultimately, I believe the primary answer at center will be in the draft for the Cowboys, potentially the first round but, again, it's best to cover all bases here.

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