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Offseason | 2023

Spagnola: Shuffling The O-Line Back Into Place


FRISCO, Texas – Meet the newest version of the Fab 5, Cowboys style.

Zack Martin.

Tyron Smith.

Terence Steele.

Tyler Smith.

Tyler Biadasz.

The five best offensive linemen on the current Cowboys roster.

Now, it's only Good Friday, April 7. The NFL Draft is 20 days away. The start to offseason conditioning programs is 10 days away. The start of OTAs is a good month away.

But seemingly there is this rush outside this Star building to figure out how the Cowboys will line up in front of Dak Prescott on the second week of September, a good 19 weeks away, somewhere around 133 days or so, depending on when that season opener lands.

But what's the rush? There are two significant factors to consider before head coach Mike McCarthy and new offensive line coach Mike Solari, a second tour of duty with the Cowboys, 36 years after the first, must commit.

First, let's not forget Steele tore his ACL on Dec. 11 against the Houston Texans, Game 13. The now fourth-year offensive tackle had his surgery to repair not only the ACL but his MCL, too, two days later on Dec. 13 and has until April 21 to potentially sign an offer sheet with another team or settle for the restricted free agent second-round tender the Cowboys qualified him at ($4.3 million guaranteed).

So, big question is, when will Steele be released to practice and will the previous undrafted rookie free agent (2020) be physically ready to start the season?

Next, Tyron Smith. Is Tyron at 32 years old and heading into his 13th season still capable of playing left tackle as he has at a Pro Bowl level in eight of the past 10 seasons (excluding 2020 and 2022) when healthy? Or can a healthy Tyron play the right tackle he transitioned to in 2022, struggling at times to play a side he had not since the 2012 season after missing the first 14 weeks of this past season?

Now those answers can't possibly be answered until the pads come on in training camp. But the Cowboys can't wait. They must project for now. Good thing is, they have options, a lot of what ifs, and time on their side.

Optimistically, COO Stephen Jones has said Steele is ahead of schedule with his rehab, usually taking a good seven to nine months to be game ready. Seven months would have him ready the first of August. Nine months means he starts training camp on PUP, and if need be, remains on PUP for the required first four weeks of the season.

Owner Jerry Jones has the Cowboys starting Tyler Smith at left tackle, Tyron Smith at right tackle and Steele working as the swing tackle, or transitioning their best run-blocking tackle over the past two seasons to left guard.

And certainly that is endorsed by McCarthy, saying earlier of his capabilities, "I don't know if Tyler Smith could play any better as a rookie."

But McCarthy answered the who-where question differently, saying they definitely will start cross-training Steele at tackle and guard too. Currently, the left guard position is wide open and why the Cowboys signed free agent guard Chuma Edoga to the one-year, $1.232 million veteran exception, costing but $1.092 million against the cap. Certainly no guarantee to start at those numbers.

"We've been talking about that. You know, get your five most veterans on the field at the same time," McCarthy said last week at the NFL Meetings in Phoenix, Ariz., about the offensive line. "Seventeen games is a long year. We haven't had the five linemen with consecutive starts during my time here. You have to pay attention to those statistics. They're real. We've lived it. We've lived that the last three years. So with that, we need to train that way."

McCarthy means position flex is vital, especially on the offensive line. Think about having lost La'el Collins for the entire 2020 season. Then there was his five-game suspension in 2021. Losing Tyron Smith for the first 13 games in 2022, missing six games in 2021 and playing just two games in 2020. Then Connor Williams missing four starts in 2021, and on and on, not to mention Martin only playing only half the 2020 season.

As of now, there is at least in 2023 this possibility of the Fab 5 from left to right: Tyler Smith, Steele, Biadasz, Martin and Tyron Smith. That is if Steele is ready. If not, at this point Edoga could be at left guard, that depending on how high the Cowboys might draft an interior offensive lineman or if Matt Farniok, Matt Waletzko or Josh Ball mount a challenge at left guard.

But what about this, and really no one is pointing out the possibility? What if Steele is properly prepared to start the season? What if Tyron Smith proves he is quite capable of still starting at left tackle and playing at a high level?

So, what if the Cowboys retreat to the 2022 plan they had during training camp before Tyron went down with his injury?

Tyron at left tackle. Tyler at left guard. Biadasz at center. Martin right guard. Steele at right tackle. Now wouldn't that be a fabulous offensive line. Sure would rather see Steele ready and able to return to right tackle, because remember, he had been the Cowboys' best run blocker, according to Martin. And Tyler Smith during training camp certainly proved capable at left guard as long as he remembers to stay low, as he did late in those injury-provoked starts there. And Tyron back at left tackle where certainly he is much more comfortable.

That was the original plan for 2022, wasn't it?

No problem walking that back. Your best five players all on the field at the same time, but again, at the same time having Steele, Tyron and Tyler prepared to flex at multiple positions depending on the circumstance to start the season or because of in-season health.

A dilemma? Depends on how you look at it.

Think about the line shuffle hitting the Cowboys late in the 2022 season and the playoff game. At one point, because of injury, having to move Connor McGovern to center, Tyler Smith to left guard and Jason Peters to left tackle because of the injury to Biadasz, along with Tyron still playing right tackle.

So how nice would be to start the 2023 season with the Fab 5 on the field, all at the same time?

And remember, they have about four to five months to make that decision. No one is playing the first of May. Not often is time on your side.

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