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FRISCO, TX — One of the biggest question marks surrounding the Dallas Cowboys a year ago was the direction of their offensive line and, as 2023 NFL free agency approaches, things are nearly as unsettled now as they were then.
Kudos to the front office for rolling the dice on Tyler Smith, and to the rookie for having an outstanding first year despite all of its challenges, but that's only one [major] question answered at the offensive tackle position and, truth be told, there's no guarantee just yet that he'll take the mantle at starting LT when September rolls around — something that can't possibly be figured out just yet with Terence Steele, Tyron Smith and Jason Peters all being topics of discussion.
The elder Smith is expected to stick around but, even if he does, at what position?
That answer lies in how free agency unfolds for both Steele and Peters, so forth and so on, so let's dig into what options the Cowboys might have in free agency to help make sure the game of musical chairs on the offensive line comes to a screeching halt, once and for all.
The future Hall of Famer turned full heel in the City of Philadelphia in 2022, joining the Dallas Cowboys after having spent the entirety of his illustrious NFL career with the Eagles — instantly becoming one of the biggest headlines and acquisitions of the year. After being granted some time to ramp up in North Texas, the 40-year-old proved he meant what he said after putting pen to paper: he'd do whatever the Cowboys needed him to do on the offensive line.
That included moving inside to left guard, and then back outside to left tackle, and then over to right tackle … and back to left tackle. He also helped save the day on the 98-yard game-winning drive against the Houston Texans, and more quietly on other occasions, and it makes all the sense in the world to see if Peters has at least one more season in his tank as a "Swing Everything".
It's going to be a long uphill climb for Steele to get himself back to full health and ready to take the field when the regular season gets underway in mid-September. The resident starter at right tackle suffered a torn ACL in late December that ended his season ahead of his first go at NFL free agency — one that isn't unrestricted, however. The 25-year-old will be a restricted free agent in March, and that means the Cowboys can retain him by simply matching any offer he receives.
They also have the option to place as much as a first-round tender on him, which would award them a first-round pick (or second-rounder if it's a second-round tender) from any team looking to peel him away from Dallas (something to consider if a long-term deal can't be secured in 2023). Given the current state of affairs on the Cowboys offensive line, and in how well Steele has developed, it's likely he sticks around; but it's not promised.
Honorable mention: Isaac Alarcón
Alarcón's contract doesn't expire in March, so why am I including him in this list? Simple. It's because his IPP (International Pathway Program) Exemption is expiring and he's entering the final year of his deal; making this offseason and training camp to come the most pivotal of his entire stay with the Cowboys. To this point, he's been in continual development and not only as a swing tackle, but he was also seen taking reps at guard in camp last July.
There's a lot of potential, I feel, within Alarcón that needs to fully come to the surface to make him a viable OL option in 2023. Head coach Mike McCarthy specifically pointed out Alarcón as one to watch this summer, and that's fine by me, considering I've had him circled since he arrived in Dallas from Mexico in 2020.
What's Out There:
Note: These players will be unrestricted on March 15, barring a newly-signed deal with their incumbent team prior to that date.
If Jason Peters can do it, so can you, Andre. Dillard is a former first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles who can begin taking calls in a few weeks, unless he signs an extension in Philly before then, and he's right up the alley for what the Cowboys would need going into the 2023 season; and weakening the Eagles in the process is truly an added bonus for seeing if this deal can get done.
A First-Team All-Pac 12 talent out of Washington State, Dillard has spent the majority of his time with the Eagles in a backup role, starting only nine times since entering the NFL in 2019, but he's been available in 43 games — most of which came after he lost the 2020 season to a torn biceps. This is an excellent swing tackle option for the Cowboys, and one that won't break the bank, but one who, combined with the return of Matt Waletzko, gives you applaud-worthy depth on the offensive edges.
Here's one you likely have no chance of seeing in a Cowboys uniform in 2023, but one whose name absolutely has to be mentioned when discussing the best pending free agents at the offensive tackle position. Brown couldn't work things out with the Baltimore Ravens, who used a third-round pick on him in 2018 before then moving him to right tackle. He believed his NFL destiny was to be a left tackle, though, and the rift led to a trade that sent him to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021.
Two years later, Brown is a Super Bowl-winning left tackle is now up for a new contract, and there's little reason to believe he'd do anything but stick around with Patrick Mahomes and a perennial contender in the Chiefs, but it's also his first chance at the biggest payday of his life.
OK, on to the right side of the line, where the future of Steele is still to-be-determined. If Steele is allowed to walk in free agency, it feels like a very not great idea to ask Tyron Smith to be your permanent solution at RT, and not because he's incapable. It's because of his history with injury and availability, a similar truth that keeps the door open for options at left tackle when also considering how Connor McGovern entering free agency could force Tyler Smith to left guard to begin the 2023 season.
With so much to figure out, a name like McGlinchey comes to mind but, not entirely unlike Brown, he won't be cheap. A former top-10 pick of the 49ers in 2018, the former member of the PFWA All-Rookie Team suffered a season-ending injury in 2021 but started in all 17 regular season games in 2022. His fifth-year option is now expiring, and entertaining this move would require the Cowboys to ask themselves if they feel he's better than the homegrown, and healing, Steele.
Now, to the more palatable options (not that the two above are impossible, but they are admittedly improbable), as far as financial asks go. McGary presumably won't carry the same dollar demands as Brown or McGlinchey, though that doesn't mean he'll be bargain basement pricing either, but if Steele isn't in a Cowboys uniform then it would behoove the club to at least have a conversation with McGary on March 13 if he's still without a new deal from the Atlanta Falcons.
Also a former first-round pick (31st-overall), McGary is a starting right tackle who has been one of the most durable at the position since entering the league in 2019 — delivering 62 starts in four seasons. He's expected to hit unrestricted free agency this year after the Falcons declined his fifth-year option, giving other teams a chance to make their pitch to the former Husky.
Cost-wise, Wynn likely won't command the same coin as Brown, McGlinchey or McGary, and that's largely due to his struggle with availability. Like the three mentioned, Wynn is also a former first-round pick (23rd overall) but, unlike those three, he's been inconsistent in staying on the field. That being said, the former Bulldog is only one year removed from logging 15 starts for the New England Patriots in 16 regular season outings; before a foot injury this past December landed him on injured reserve, ending his season.
You have to know this is a risk-reward move, because Wynn can definitely get the job done when he's on the field. The question is an obvious one, though: can he stay on it? If you want to know how I'd play it, here goes: find out his asking price and if it's in a range that allows me to justify adding him as a high-priced swing tackle/backup LT (which keeps his rep count down and him available as insurance), I'd pull that trigger, John Wick style.