DALLAS — Let’s go back to July, when the Dallas Cowboys were healthy and heading into training camp. One of their strengths at the time was their offensive line.
Sure, perennial Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick retired in the offseason hurting the collective unit, but his replacement Joe Looney had done an admirable job as the starter when Frederick missed the 2018 season. The Cowboys also drafted C Tyler Biadasz out of Wisconsin to make sure the position was solidified.
Fast forward four weeks into the season and the offensive line is in shambles.
First, it was right tackle La’el Collins who was shut down for the season, then Looney got hurt and is expected to miss time, and now the hammer has dropped on the group. The team announced that stud left tackle Tyron Smith will now miss the remainder of the season because of a neck injury that will require surgery.
The writing was on the wall with Smith, who had already missed two games this season with the neck ailment. And the Cowboys surely knew Smith might miss a few games heading into the season since he hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2015.
Although he’s not even 30 years old, the seven-time Pro Bowl tackle has racked up the injuries, ranging from his knee, hip, back, and now neck since 2016.
The long-term absence of Smith is another big blow to the Cowboys and their offensive line. Without Collins, and now Smith, in their lineup, Dallas will be rolling with two backup tackles for the remainder of their 12 games. In fact, with original depth tackle Cameron Erving still on the IR, the Cowboys will be playing with a backup for the intended backup at least one critical spot along the line.
Good luck, Dak.
Indeed, it’s not an ideal situation for quarterback Prescott, the offense itself, or a team that’s built a 1-3 hole in a year where they were expected to contend. The team has already had the offensive line aliments damage a few games without their bookend tackles and now the Cowboys will be forced to work their way through it with even less.
In the meantime, team owner Jerry Jones praised Smith’s willingness to play through the pain, but acknowledged this was the best move for Smith’s health.
The Cowboys were expected to head into the 2020 season with Smith at LT, Connor Williams at LG, Looney at C, Zack Martin at RG and La’el Collins at RT. That starting lineup had three of the best at their respective positions in Smith, Martin, and Collins with Williams considered a potential breakout candidate and Looney a respected veteran.
Now, Dallas will prepare for Week 5 with three of those pieces missing and it’s possible that they will be forced to start two undrafted rookies at the tackles positions. We don’t know who the Cowboys plan to use in Smith’s place yet, but if the past few weeks are any indication, Brandon Knight and Terence Steele are the likely starting tackles. Knight has held up well during his time, but Steele has been close to a disaster.
Jones mentioned that 2019 third round pick Connor McGovern could be ready to see more playing time so it is possible that Dallas will shift Martin back out to tackle, as they did in the Week 3 loss in Seattle, and plug McGovern in at guard.
Heading into the season, Dallas had a good offensive line with depth and versatility. Now, that depth is being tested and the results haven’t been good. The Cowboys of the last decade had one of the elite offensive lines in the league, but that feels like a long time ago. Injuries and retirement have sapped the unit of some of its best players and others haven’t stepped up yet.
Ironically, the man who helped build up the group in the last 10 years, former head coach Jason Garrett, comes back to town with the New York Giants as the offensive coordinator for Dallas’ rival this Sunday.
The lockdown left tackle that began the offensive line rebuild as the first ever draft pick in the Garrett era, Tyron Smith, won’t be playing again this season and the Cowboys are left scrambling along the offensive line.
That’s a twist we didn’t see coming.
Do you think the Cowboys will be able to survive without their All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.