Zack Martin provides the most consistency on the interior of the Cowboys offensive line and, as such, that has to be a focus heading into 2023, specifically when looking at the LG situation
FRISCO, TX — Protecting the edges of the offensive line is paramount, but so is making sure defenders aren't getting the matador treatment on their way to bull rushing Dak Prescott into oblivion.
That means, for the Dallas Cowboys, that as they work to finalize the replacement of outgoing offensive line coach Joe Philbin, they must also put eyes on what the interior of their OL will look like in 2023. The high ankle sprain suffered by Tyler Biadasz in December revealed just how precarious the depth was at the position, even if only in the moment, and free agency might impact that further.
It's time to take a closer look at the interior offensive line setup in Dallas.
In the previous edition of 'What's Next?', I touched on where the Cowboys truly began their recent journey at offensive tackle, and that included mentioning La'El Collins — the former starting right tackle who was supplanted in 2022 by Terence Steele. But in mentioning Collins, I'd be remiss to not recall his trajectory to that role, because it began at left guard.
You can be Ronald Leary remembers, seeing as it was Leary who manned the role between Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, and effectively under injury cleared the path for the Cowboys to give an undrafted Collins his shot; and he'd ultimately replace Leary as starting left guard, later being moved to RT following the retirement of Doug Free.
And I'm sure you remember Frederick, a Hall of Fame talent at center who retired in 2020 due to his ongoing battle with Guillain–Barré syndrome — an incomparable player (and human being) who first returned in 2019 en route to landing his fifth and final Pro Bowl nod.
The trio of Leary/Collins, Frederick and Zack Martin was devastating to opposing defensive lines, and it's something the Cowboys have been trying to get back to for years now, with Martin being the only remaining superstar from that lineup.
That's a lot to live up to, even more so when you consider it didn't take years for Frederick and Martin to get going (or even Collins, for that matter), but that's the mission being placed in front of Tyler Biadasz at center, and whomever takes over as starting left guard in 2023.
But, you see, the latter is seemingly the most elusive get for the Cowboys to this point, having lacked consistency in what's become a bit of a turnstile at LG in the post-Leary era.
Tyler Smith, a former first-round pick who did unfathomably well as a rookie in 2022, and despite being moved back and forth between two positions like a saw over wood, helped stabilize the loss of Tyron Smith at left tackle but, prior to that, spent the entirety of training camp challenging Connor McGovern for the role of LG1.
With McGovern heading to free agency, it's possible Smith returns to the spot in a scenario where Tyron Smith moves from RT back to LT, assuming the return of restricted free agent Terence Steele (who is also recovering from a torn ACL).
But even if McGovern does return, it's not a foregone conclusion that the law firm of Smith-Smith-Biadaz-Martin-Steele is shelved.
The Cowboys loved using McGovern as a fullback in jumbo sets, and it makes you wonder if he'd be willing to commit to that for the long haul or if he has other ideas for his NFL career (one year after Connor Williams left in free agency).
While all of that gets sorted, expect the return of Matt Farniok to provide talented depth at OG/C and Biadasz took a massive step forward in 2022 as starting center, landing his first-ever Pro Bowl honor in the process. And don't forget about Alec Lindstrom (and Brock Hoffman) who, though currently recovering from injury, can and will challenge Farniok in training camp.
And don't count Isaac Alarcón out as someone who'll see camp reps at left guard, as incoming offensive line coach Mike Solari deepens his evaluation of all involved this offseason.
The window for the Cowboys (as a whole) to make the [Super Bowl] leap is still open, but Martin is 32 years old and won't play forever, and absolutely no one is looking forward to what happens to the interior once he calls it a career; whenever that might be.