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Open Market: Tyron Smith, Cowboys OTs in 2024?


(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 — As we move to the second episode of 'Open Market' for the Dallas Cowboys, a series focused on NFL free agency, we turn an eye from quarterbacks to the rather sizable humans whose job it is to keep them upright and out of the dirt, and especially considering how unsettled things were at the tackle position in 2023.

Terence Steele was both awarded a new deal and returned successfully from a devastating knee injury that ended his 2022 season and, though it took him a while to find his groove again, it stands to reason that another offseason of health and preparation will ensure he's in top form for 2024.

The same type of optimism can't be had at left tackle, with Tyron Smith entering free agency after a resurgent season regarding his level of play, though not necessarily with his durability; and the swing tackle position leaves much to be desired in the realm of knowing what the hell is going on there.

Let's talk about it.

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

What's Here:

Tyron Smith: Entering the 2023 season, it appeared Smith was on the final leg of his illustrious career, at least physically. After all, he struggles annually to remain on the field for the entire regular season and the emergence of rookie sensation Tyler Smith (and his ability to pop outside to left tackle and still dominate) made it appear the elder Smith had lost his spot.

That turned out to be untrue because, while Tyron Smith did again miss time in 2023, he'd play in the majority of the games and looked phenomenal when he was on the field. A new practice regimen — i.e., not practicing at all — might have added a couple years to his career and that means re-signing him would be a no-brainer to act as a bridge in figuring out who will be his successor, seeing as Tyler Smith is completely cemented at left guard going forward.

Chuma Edoga: We know who is not his successor, though. Edoga entered the roster via free agency last spring and, to his credit, he turned an uneven and forgettable training camp into some quality starts at left tackle in the early absence of Tyron Smith.

That didn't hold true on the back end of the season, however, especially when you look at what he put on film in the narrow loss to the Dolphins in Week 16. What head coach Mike McCarthy did immediately thereafter was quite telling of what Edoga's future in Dallas might be, or rather what it might not be.

La'el Collins: Edoga's late-season struggles would drive the Cowboys to reunite with La'el Collins, their former starting right tackle who, in his football career, has also played left tackle previously. Collins wouldn't see the field to end the season, but there's a solid chance the Cowboys reup with him in free agency to see what he can be for them in a swing tackle role in direct competition with the younger group of guys.

Josh Ball: The problem is the younger group of guys aren't invoking a ton of confidence just yet, and Ball is a part of that equation. He's been tested at multiple positions but has yet to stick at any of them. A former fourth-round pick in 2021 that has been active for only 13 total games in his career, he was placed on season-ending injured reserve ahead of final roster cutdowns in late August and is hoping to finally show and prove in the training camp to come.

He'll have no choice but to do exactly that, considering he's entering a contract year with little on his resume at the moment provoke a contract extension beyond the 2024 season.

Matt Waletzko: I really can't stress enough how much potential I believe Waletzko has to be a high-quality swing tackle in the NFL, but his shoulders simply do not agree with me. He's now been victimized by both of them, suffering multiple subluxations that have, thus far, continually paused his young career to this point. He'd claw his way back from his latest stint on injured reserve in December but, not unlike Ball, he'll need to make waves this summer though, unlike Ball, it'll be in the aspect of durability and not simply quality of play.

Go ahead and pit both Waletzko and Ball against other inexperienced talent vying for the role of either swing tackle and/or successor to Tyron Smith (and likely a premium 2024 draft pick as well) — incumbent names that include Earl Bostick Jr. and former 2023 fifth-round pick Asim Richards (impressive talent out of UNC who was unable to earn a single in-game snap as a rookie, but who could very well be the wild card in this equation).

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, and legal tampering can not begin until March 11.

Mekhi Becton: This is one I'm bullish on for a couple of reasons. The first being that he's still just 24 years old, and that gives him not only a chance to earn the right to be one of the best swing tackles in the league, but his age also means he'd have the chance to become Smith's successor at left tackle as early as 2025 (a strong selling point) — also after having learned all of the tricks of the trade from the future Hall of Famer.

Those are the pros, along with his eye-opening athleticism for his size and the fact he was the 11th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for a reason (First-Team All-ACC), but the cons include recent injury history, though the fact he logged 16 starts in 2023 balances that out for me here. The Jets didn't execute his fifth-year option following an injury-tanked 2022 season, which means he's on the market if still unsigned by March 13.

Michael Onwenu: I like Onwenu for similar reasons as Becton, in that he's only 26 years old and, as such, hits a sweet spot for me in finding a swing tackle now that can become your starter in the near future. He was not as heralded coming out of school as was Becton, being a former sixth-round pick in 2020, but he's gone on to rack up 56 starts in this league over the course of his first four seasons.

That kind of durability is delicious to consider if you're a Cowboys' offensive line often plagued by injury. Furthermore, Onwenu has the ability to play multiple positions on the O-line, something that could come in handy as a 2024 backup, and he's an absolute unit that has both a better-than-average anchor and strength that rivals that of Tyron Smith. When he engages, you're married until the whistle forces him to file for divorce until the next play.

Jonah Williams: This one would be a bit of a stretch, but not because of Williams' inability to get the job done. The problem here is his rift with the Bengals occurred due to the loss of his position at LT1 due to the addition of Orlando Brown Jr., but things were mostly patched when he recommitted to trying to earn reps at RT1. In the end, he'd do exactly that and, for me, that means he's literally the perfect swing tackle candidate.

But, as I said, there's a problem here in that he wants to be a starter in this league. Circling back to the selling point in speaking with Becton, however, if the Cowboys were to present it as an opportunity to take over the job for the long haul following the 2024 season, I could see the ice being broken there with the 26-year-old former first-round pick (11th-overall in 2019).

Trent Brown: All things considered, this one might be more the Cowboys' speed if they're looking for a veteran swing tackle that can immediately replace what they thought Edoga would bring to the table. Brown tops the age column of this group at 30 years old, having been in the league since 2015 via a seventh-round selection by the 49ers. He's since spent time with the Raiders and the Patriots (on two different stints) — having been in New England since 2021.

A former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, he brings mentorship to the locker room that the other free agents I've listed do not own, and with the understanding that his days as a starter are mostly behind him, though he did log eight starts in 11 games last season and has 93 starts in his career.

The next phase of LT1 in Dallas needs to be figured out, absolutely, but it's also true that they're currently without a definitive veteran swing guy and Brown fits that for me.

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