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FRISCO, TX — It's beginning to feel like Groundhog Day as it relates to the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line questions and, more specifically, at offensive tackle. Tyron Smith made progress in his battles with durability, but he also missed several games yet again, and his replacements were a mixed bag, to say the least.
This offseason will feature questions that need to be answered there, with the contract on Terence Steele solidifying the right tackle spot for the foreseeable future, but with no proven swing tackle to spell Steele or Smith; assuming the latter remains in uniform.
Let's talk about it.
Past: There was a time when the Cowboys boasted, inarguably, the best offensive line in all of football and that was in part because of how they addressed the left and right tackle position. Prior to 2011, there were very real problems protecting Tony Romo, but that began to change when Tyron Smith arrived via a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft (9th-overall).
It was the first time the Cowboys used a first-round/top-10 pick on an offensive lineman since John Niland in 1966, and it set in motion an OL parade that included using first-round picks on Travis Frederick and Zack Martin (instead of Johnny Manziel) in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
They'd circle back in 2022 and do so again by selecting Tyler Smith, who had a breakout rookie season despite being moved to left guard for all of training camp after spending his collegiate career at Tulsa playing offensive tackle, only to then be moved back to left tackle following injury to Tyron Smith in the preseason.
And, now, the former Tulsa standout is an NFL Second-Team All-Pro, now moved back to left guard, with the Cowboys having struck gold yet again.
Present: The injury bug continued to sting the Cowboys' offensive line in 2023. It led to a merry-go-round in the first three weeks of the season and again toward the back end of it, but the promising news is that Tyron Smith was able to take the field in a total of 13 starts — the most since 2019.
It was largely due to the new practice regimen that involved Smith "not" practicing at all and instead focusing solely on walkthroughs, and that plan may have added at least another year to his Hall of Fame-caliber career.
More on that in a moment.
The shuffling of talent this past season revealed a few things: the Cowboys are hellbent on keeping Tyler Smith at left guard from now on, no matter what, and that means Dallas needs to figure out the situation at swing tackle for both the season to come and far into the future.
Future: As for the decision to come on Tyron Smith, he's set to become an unrestricted free agent in March unless a new deal is agreed to. Given his availability in 2023, it would make perfect sense to keep him around for 2024, but my opinion is also that it must serve as a bridge to whatever comes next at the position.
Chuma Edoga was serviceable in the left tackle role early in the season but not so much later on, leading the Cowboys to reunite with La'el Collins heading into the playoffs.
Edoga is also heading toward free agency, by the way.
Collins was signed to the practice squad and there's a chance he'll be around for 2024 as well, possibly on the active roster, to give him a shot at battling guys like Matt Waletzko and Earl Bostick Jr. for the role of swing tackle, at minimum. It's unclear where Asim Richards fits in this equation, a former tackle at UNC who didn't get any burn as a rookie on the edge and who might also see some camp work on the interior (again).
With Smith and Edoga entering free agency, Waletzko needing to remain healthy to make a possible impact, Richards and Bostick needing to ramp up more and the Collins variable — it's wildly unclear how things will shake out at left tackle and at swing tackle behind LT1 and Terence Steele.
To me, this is all the more reason to re-sign the elder Smith and possibly address the position in the upcoming draft as well.