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Progress Report: Martin Excelled Despite Injuries


(Editor's Note: NFL rosters change wildly from year to year. This year will be no different, as the Cowboys seek to upgrade their roster via free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 6-10 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of will evaluate those players who are already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we'll continue the series with guard Zack Martin.)

The Good: The "good" when it comes to Zack Martin is that he is still plainly and obviously one of the most talented offensive linemen in the NFL when healthy. For the past half decade, you could safely pencil in a spot for Martin on the NFL All-Pro team. Martin missed a combined six games in 2020, but there's no question that he was playing at an All-Pro level in the 10 games that he did play for the Cowboys. If anything, he showcased what a true talent he really is in 2020 with the position flexibility he showed. With all the injuries that the Cowboys accumulated at offensive tackle, the coaching staff asked the guard to move to right tackle for select games and he performed more than respectably. The Cowboys got into a rhythm moving the ball against Seattle when Martin moved to tackle. He later returned from injury and started at tackle in a win over Minnesota. The overall skill required to play at such high levels at multiple positions can't be overstated.

The Bad: Martin didn't have to prove how great he is to any Cowboys fans. Unfortunately, in a season when the team's fate was largely decided by their various injuries, Martin missing more than a third of the season played some part in that fate. The six games that he missed were a result of two separate injuries. Martin suffered a concussion, which he returned from in a victory over Minnesota. Later he suffered a calf injury that ultimately ended his season. There really isn't much reason to believe that those injuries will be an issue going forward, but you can only evaluate a season by how it played out. Greatness on limited availability can only get you so far, and Martin certainly wasn't the only proof of that for the Cowboys in 2020.

Best of 2020: It's always hard to find a "best" moment for a player whose hallmark is consistent greatness, but it might be worth looking towards the Cowboys' Week 11 win over Minnesota. Trying to salvage a season that had turned disastrous, Dallas was getting Martin back from a concussion, but were contending with a dismantling of their tackle position. They asked the All-Pro guard to start the game at tackle, and he didn't miss a beat. Neither did the Cowboys. The team regained an offensive swagger that it hadn't seen since before Dak Prescott's injury. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 100 yards for the first time all season, and Tony Pollard scored on a 43-yard rush. Essentially, Martin stepped up and played at an All-Pro level at a different position than the one that he was already an All-Pro at.

Contract Consideration: Martin signed a six-year contract worth a total of $84 million in 2019. It was the kind of contract extended to a franchise cornerstone and should keep Martin in Dallas through the 2024 season. If there are any changes to this deal, it could be a restructure situation to help the Cowboys obtain more room on this year's cap.

What's Next? The expectation is that Martin will be ready for training camp with no significant injury concerns and ready to play at the elite level that is expected every time he steps on the field. The only question is where he'll line up. The safest bet is that he'll play right guard, where he's excelled for years. But the flexibility that he showed in 2020 is something stored in the memory banks of the Cowboys. Martin played tackle at Notre Dame and dominated at the position. If La'el Collins or Tyron Smith were to have setbacks coming back from their injuries, it's conceivable that the Cowboys would turn to Martin at tackle as early as training camp. Martin's proved that it's reasonable to trust him at any spot on the offensive line. But all things equal, the team would prefer to have all their pieces healthy and Martin playing right guard, where he has helped pave the way for dominant rushing performances.

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