DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys went into the 2021 season with one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. When healthy, the team had some of the league’s top players at their respective positions.
Zack Martin is one of the best right guards in the game, and Tyron Smith still dominates at left tackle when his health permits. Joining them was La’el Collins, a top-tier right tackle when available, and former second-rounder Connor Williams, who played well despite penalty issues at left guard. That made for a strong group upfront, with two All-Pro players and two other solid pieces to go along with rising center Tyler Biadasz.
With that core, it felt like the Cowboys had their offensive line set for years to come. However, just one season later, and the line has been heavily-retooled over the offseason as the team has tried to get younger and more disciplined to revitalize their once strongest unit.
Dallas still has the opportunity for the line to be a strength if only because Martin remains and is in his prime and at the top of his game. The 2014 first-rounder is firmly entrenched at right guard for the next few years.
Smith will return and he is great when he’s healthy, but he’s had too many years where injuries have cut his availability short. The veteran tackle has missed at least three games every season since 2016. That’s not a fad, it’s a trend for Smith. The Cowboys cannot trust that Smith will play in all 17 games during a season, those days appear to be over.
Nevertheless, Smith remains an elite talent when he’s in the lineup and is one of the top tackles in the game. The offense runs much smoother when Smith is around protecting quarterback Dak Prescott’s blindside.
There aren’t many players more valuable to the Cowboys than Smith, so the team must hope for as close to a full season as they can get out of the veteran tackle.
Center Biadasz returns as the starter, but his hold on the job could be tenuous. The Cowboys are experimenting with second year offensive lineman Matt Farniok in Biadasz’s place and brought in one of the better centers in college football, Alec Lindstrom, as an undrafted free agent.
Biadasz has done an admirable job in the middle during his first two seasons in the NFL, but he didn’t elevate his play in his second season as much as expected and now it appears as though he will have stiff competition for the job at training camp.
Martin, Smith and Biadasz are the three remaining starters from last season for Dallas. At least two newcomers are going to be counted on to make the line a better unit than the one that allowed 25 pressures in the team’s postseason exit.
Terence Steele is no stranger to being a starter at right tackle. The undrafted free agent from Texas Tech has played in more games than expected in his first two seasons. So while he wasn’t the expected starter last season, Steele is very much entrenched and the Cowboys believe in him after seeing him improve each year. That belief helped Dallas feel comfortable enough to release Collins.
That’s a lot of faith in Steele, who will need to continue his progression to be a worthy replacement for Collins, who was a Pro Bowl-type talent. Steele’s ability to play at a high level is one of the keys to Dallas’ offensive line shuffle. If he can do it, things start to look pretty good for the Cowboys. If not, they could be in a world of trouble with depth at offensive tackle as one of their weak spots.
The final piece of the Cowboys’ offensive line retooling is rookie left guard Tyler Smith. In what was a bit of a surprise selection during the draft, Tyler Smith is expected to be the starter at left guard, but he will also perform double duty as understudy for Tyron Smith at left tackle.
A lot of trust has been placed in Smith and his transition inside after playing tackle in college. The team and owner Jerry Jones have already been impressed with Tyler Smith from the spring practice sessions and the hope is that the former Tulsa standout will take to a starting role immediately.
All eyes will be on Tyler Smith when camp arrives and how he lives up to his first-round status will be the biggest story for the offensive line this season. The Cowboys were believers in Tyler Smith throughout the draft process and how he adjusts to the new position could dictate the path forward for the offensive line.
Ultimately, the Cowboys need to be right about the decisions they’ve made along the offensive line if they want to take their offense to the next level. If Dallas returns to their dominant ways in the trenches on offense, the future looks quite a bit brighter in 2022 and beyond.
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