(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 2015 season. Today, we examine the guards and centers.)
Pressing Matters:It's always good when the most pressing matter of a position is the backup spots. And it's even better when you're trying to find backups at positions that have Pro Bowlers. The Cowboys' interior offensive line is loaded and should be for years to come. Zack Martin might have been the best draft pick the Cowboys have made in several years, and if he wasn't, it could be center Travis Frederick, the guy most draft "experts" thought would've been around in the middle rounds. So with Frederick and Martin locked up, the Cowboys will have to re-sign Ron Leary, who is an exclusive rights free agent. Basically, that means as long as they issue a tender to him, which they most certainly will, Leary has no leverage this year other than to sign it. He will be restricted after next season and then the Cowboys might have more of a pressing matter.
2014 Evaluation: Arguably, this could be the area where the Cowboys grade out the best. Of the three starters, two of them were in the Pro Bowl and a third was also very good in 2014. While Leary might always be considered the "weak link" because he is the only offensive line starter undrafted, he still played rather well this past season. He gives the Cowboys some size and strength to open holes, and he's also nimble in the open field for his size to get out on pulls and screens. Obviously, Martin and Frederick are two of the NFL's best at their respective positions. Martin was a first-team All-Pro selection and Frederick was on the second team. Both of them were in the Pro Bowl as well. Together, Leary, Frederick and Martin are three of the reasons the Cowboys had so much success running the ball last season.
Need More From … Since two of the three starters made the Pro Bowl, the only answer would be Leary. But considering the Cowboys took this offensive tackle from Memphis with a bad knee and developed him into a starting guard, Leary has been nothing but a success story. Sure, he could be a little more consistent with his blocks, but he showed something in the Houston game when he matched up several times with J.J. Watt and more than held his own. When it comes time for the Cowboys to re-sign Leary, it will be a tough call because of the money already invested on the line, but Leary has been more than worthy of earning a contract extension.
Upgrades Needed:The Cowboys will likely need some depth here. Mackenzy Bernadeau is a valuable asset because he has started 28 games at guard and has played center as well. His $2.82 million cap charge is probably way too high for a guy who didn't even play 100 snaps last season, though. It's a nice insurance policy to have, but might be too expensive for a team that has plenty of free agents to re-sign this year. If the Cowboys can get some young, versatile linemen in the draft or free agency, look for them to at least explore the opportunity.
By The Numbers:
- Martin became the first rookie lineman in Cowboys history to make the Pro Bowl. He was the first overall rookie since Calvin Hill was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1969.
- Martin was flagged for only three penalties in 2014, the fewest among all starting linemen. Frederick had six penalties and Leary was called for five.
- The Cowboys ranked second in the NFL with a 147.1 yard rushing average.