The best way to describe the Cowboys offensive line in 2022 is as a weekly game of 'Musical Chairs'; and they're still facing questions at OT that require answers in 2023
FRISCO, TX — Quiet as it's kept, the Dallas Cowboys were not far away from being a Super Bowl team in 2022, their season ending due to problems with inconsistency of play more than any actual deficiency in the roster or coaching ranks. But, considering it did end prematurely, in the NFC Divisional Round, changes have already begun.
To this point, those changes have been in the coaching staff under Mike McCarthy, and that includes not only the departure of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, but also offensive line coach Joe Philbin.
As McCarthy and the front office work through who'll replace Philbin, they do so knowing there is also the question of personnel questions at offensive tackle — two of the most important spots on the entire roster.
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.
Smith became the platinum standard at left tackle, after taking snaps at right tackle in his rookie season opposite Doug Free (they'd swap sides in 2012). As the seasons wore on, however, Smith's battles with injury became perennial, leading to the decision to use the 2022 first-round pick on Tyler Smith; and what came next was a carousel of adaptation at the position.
As we fast forward to this decade, Terence Steele is the starter at RT after supplanting La'El Collins, a former left guard, but Steele is working to return from a torn ACL suffered in December and he'll also be a restricted free agent in March, and that allows him to negotiate with other clubs though the Cowboys have the Right of First Refusal (can match any offer and retain him or tender him and part ways for compensation from the club that acquires him).
If you assume Steele will return and in full health, for the sake of argument, that still leaves the question of what happens both at swing tackle and on the left side of the offensive line, because you'd also have to assume Tyron Smith returns to his original digs after finishing the 2022 season at the right edge; but would that push Tyler Smith inside (again) to left guard?
That's a topic for another day (hint), but yes, there are questions at starter, though not nearly as pressing as they were this time last year (pre-Tyler).
As noted, the swing tackle position still needs to be addressed because it's not a safe bet that Jason Peters will return at the age of 41 (TBD), but there's optimism former fifth-round pick Matt Waletzko will be ready to go and that could be a huge boost in that role — along with the trajectory of a very-promising Aviante Collins.
Are the Cowboys ready to take the reins off of Isaac Alarcon, though? Mike McCarthy hinted at it in his recent press conference, which means the Cowboys are at least no longer body-deficient at swing tackle, though they won't know who wins out until training camp.
That's good news, knowing the Cowboys have no shortage of young, talented competition at swing tackle, and there's currently no indication Tyron Smith is looking to hang up his cleats in 2023, which should resettle things quite a bit — barring injury.
All in all, the Cowboys aren't in dire straits at tackle but, admittedly, Steele is a very big question mark here, even if only in trying to determine his availability, or lack thereof, to start the season.