(Editor's Note: This is the fourth of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2016 season. Today we examine the offensive tackles.)
This is about as well-stocked a position as the Cowboys have on their roster, but there is always room for uncertainty. Dallas drafted Chaz Green No. 91 overall last spring, but he did not play a single snap after undergoing offseason surgery on his hip. Logically, he figures to be the Cowboys' No. 3 tackle and the all-important swing tackle in his second season – but it sure would be comforting if we had gotten a chance to see him handle that role as a rookie. The Cowboys turned toward Darrion Weems at the start of last season and it didn't work out. They then turned toward Charles Brown, who was so-so. Green is young and talented, but the Cowboys need to figure out quickly if he can step into this role.
It's a testament to the quality of this position that you can knock the Cowboys' offensive tackles at all. Tyron Smith remains one of the youngest and most talented tackles in the game, and he proved that in 2015 with a third-straight Pro Bowl selection. In fairness, Smith probably didn't live up to the lofty standards expected of him. He was flagged 10 times on the year and a few pass rushers – Miami's Olivier Vernon, Philadelphia's Brandon Graham – gave him fits. That feels nitpicky, though, given the caliber of Smith's play over the course of his career.
After signing a three-year, $15 million deal in the spring, Free played a clean season as the Cowboys' longest-tenured offensive lineman. He lacks the Pro Bowl accolades that have gone to so many of his linemates, but he was injury-free and largely dependable in 2015. He did incur eight false starts, which is a ridiculous number for a nine-year veteran.
Behind the starters, the depth was disappointing. Weems failed his audition for the swing tackle job in the preseason. Brown was alright. He played roughly 25 snaps on the season, and the Cowboys' goal line and jumbo packages were disappointing to say the least.
Need More From …
The answer has to be Green. He essentially took a medical redshirt, as he wasn't activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list until late in the season and he didn't play a down. The expectation for Year 2 is that he can play like a top-100 draft pick and ease into the swing tackle job. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said at the end of the year that he was impressed by what Green was able to do in practice once he joined the team. That's a good start, but hopefully it can translate to games this year. Doug Free just turned 32, and he's only under contract for two more seasons. Ideally, you'd expect that Green is the right tackle of the future, but he's got a lot to prove.
It's hard to argue that the Cowboys really need to upgrade the position. Tyron Smith is a first-round pick and an All-Pro who is under contract for basically the next decade. Doug Free has proven to be a reliable veteran. Chaz Green is a third-round pick and has three years left on a cheap rookie contract. On top of that, both Zack Martin and La'el Collins are versatile talents who could probably shift outside if necessary.
Of course, don't put it past the Cowboys to take the best player available in this year's draft. A marquee talent like Laremy Tunsil would be an upgrade over Free or Green, and Dallas has proven it isn't afraid to add to an already-strong position. It just depends on the circumstances.
By The Numbers:
- At just 25 years of age, Tyron Smith has already played five NFL seasons and been selected to three Pro Bowls.
- False starts accounted for eight of Doug Free's nine penalties on the year. He was called once for holding in Week 3 against the Falcons.
- After losing former tackle Jermey Parnell to Jacksonville in free agency last spring, the Cowboys should benefit from his departure in the form of a compensatory draft pick this year. The value of Parnell's deal was $32 million, which could put Dallas in line for an extra fourth-round pick.