The Dallas Cowboys have done a terrific job of filling the few holes that were in their roster. Exchanging Day 3 picks for Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks, they upgraded their corner and wideout rooms. They made sure to bring back Leighton Vander Esch, Jonathan Hankins, and Donovan Wilson so the team doesn’t open up any new holes on the defense.
With Tony Pollard’s return, the only true question mark is how the offensive line will set up in 2023. Dak Prescott has proven himself as a deadly passer when the OL is good, and Pollard has been great, even behind an average line. What combination of offensive linemen makes the most sense for the team this season though? Here is a look at some of the options.
In an interview on The Draft Show during the 2023 NFL draft, Cowboys offensive line coach Mike Solari said the team was working second-year standout Tyler Smith at offensive tackle, but that the team would play its best five during the season. The Cowboys best five is easily recognizable as Tyron Smith at left tackle, Tyler Smith at left guard, Tyler Biadasz at center, Zack Martin at right guard, and Terence Steele at right tackle.
This seems like a no brainer; putting the Hall of Fame left tackle back to his natural position, the younger Smith to the position he was supposed to play as a rookie, Biadasz and Martin right where they belong, and Steele at the spot he developed into a very good player as an undrafted free agent.
There are two glaring issues here; the injury concerns for Tyron Smith and the not allowing Tyler Smith to develop in the role he was drafted for. If the veteran tackle could make it 15 to 20 games without injury, then this is a moot point. Tyron Smith plays one last year before he retires, and the youngster takes over in 2024.
It would be naive to plan for that, but there is one more thing to consider. The development of 6-foot-7 tackle, Matt Waletzko. If he is fully back from injury, and can show himself as a capable swing OT, then the plan could be for him to take over if Smith once again gets sidelined with an injury.
A few things won’t change regardless of the choices the Cowboys end up making, Biadasz will start at center and Martin at right guard. It is the pieces around those two that will set up the starting five and a line that focuses on the best run blockers would include two massive decisions.
The first thing Dallas would have to do is tell a future Hall of Fame player he has to go to the bench. As great as Smith has been for the Cowboys, Steele is a better run blocker. Last season Steele and Martin owned the right side of the line and that ended as soon as Steele went down with a season-ending injury. Tyron Smith played well on the right side for the first time in over a decade, but he wasn’t run blocking at the same rate as Steele.
On the opposite side, Tyler Smith was a powerhouse as a run blocker in Year 1 and they would keep developing him there. It is not an easy decision, but with his injury history Tyron Smith is just better off in a non-starting role in this scenario.
The second decision would be starting Chuma Edoga at left guard. The former third-round pick of the New York Jets had a lot of potential coming out of college. He has been mostly injured the last two seasons, but PFF had him as the third-highest run-block grade at 84.9 in December of last year. When healthy, Edoga can open holes in the run game. A left side of Tyler Smith and Edoga could be almost as formidable as a returning right side of Martin and Steele.
Pass protection would be an issue, though. Steele was never a great pass protector, Smith had issues as a rookie left tackle and Edoga has always been a below average pass blocker. If Mike McCarthy chooses this route, then quarterback Dak Prescott better be willing to be more mobile in 2023 to survive in obvious passing situations.
The pass-blocking line includes the two established guys, Biadasz and Martin, plus keeps the younger Smith at left tackle to start the exercise. The first big move is the starting right tackle remains the same as it was at the end of last season after Smith replaced an injured Steele. Tyron Smith is just a better pass blocker than any other tackle Dallas has. Even at this point in his long career, it’s a story when he’s beaten on a pass-pro rep. After moving to the right side, he was still dominant protecting Prescott.
With four of the five spots established, who is the left guard? Certainly not Edoga as pass blocking is not a strength of his. Dallas would have to look towards third-year pro Matt Farniok, or rookie Asim Richards, who has worked almost exclusively at guard at rookie minicamp.
The first option would likely go to Farniok who has been in the organization for two seasons and even got a couple of starts in 2022. He was not good enough in the chances he got, but he was able to get a taste of the game at the NFL level, some reps to build off of, and that is more than Richards who is making the move from tackle in college to guard in the pros.
One outside option the team could consider goes back to the best-five theory and the Cowboys belief in Waletzko. If the team sees that Waletzko is better in pass protection than Steele, he could possibly start opposite Tyron Smith. This would move the younger Smith back inside to left guard.
If the goal of the offensive line is developing the second-year stud at left tackle, this opens up a large unknown at left guard and will leave the fanbase wondering how good this OL could be. A hole at LG, two injury concerns at RT, and a second year LT leaves many concerns.
If Dallas is just trying to put the best offensive line possible on the field for winning games, then the younger Smith might once again have to move inside. That line is a formidable one that could be dominant if healthy. The key to the entire thing could be the development of Waletzko, Farniok, and Richards. That could make answering the couple of questions much easier to manage.