Arguably the best player on the entire Dallas Cowboys roster resides at right guard. But while Zack Martin is one of the all-time greats, the situation at left guard isn't nearly as satisfying. Connor Williams remains a question mark this offseason as our 2021 Position Preview series continues.
Williams enters the final year of his rookie contract without having clearly established himself as a fixture among Dallas' starting offensive linemen. But 2020 was his best season yet and at least left Connor trending upward heading into this offseason.
2021 Guard Contract Statuses
U = Unrestricted, R = Restricted, E = Exclusive Rights
The Cowboys don't have any glaring issues at guard in 2021. Assuming Zack Martin gets back to normal health next season, they at least have solid footing with the All-Pro and Williams as returning starters and Connor McGovern as the primary backup.
Williams started 2020 positively with noted improvement in his strength and overall play at left guard. But as the rest of the Cowboys' offense crumbled throughout the season it became harder to notice any of the good work that Connor was doing.
For offensive linemen, having your name mentioned during games tends to be a bad thing. That's what happened to Williams later in the year when he was still occasionally manhandled by opposing defensive tackles.
Connor converted from playing offensive tackle at Texas to guard when he joined the Cowboys in 2018. While he claimed the starting job immediately as a rookie, an injury allowed veteran Xavier Su'a-Filo to temporarily steal the spot. Williams remained on the bench healthy for a few weeks, but was eventually back as the starter for the playoffs.
In his second season in 2019, Williams remained a perceived weak point on the line until a season-ending ACL injury. He started all 11 games that he played in that year.
Connor did achieve one milestone in 2020 by starting all 16 games for the first time in his career. It was especially appreciated last year as we saw La'el Collins miss the entire season, Tyron Smith most of it, six games by Zack Martin, and general instability at center.
Despite last year's improvement, Connor Williams is heading into 2021 with just one year left on his contract and lingering doubts about his long-term value.
Given their greater concerns at other positions on the roster, the Cowboys will likely stick with Williams for at least this final contract season. Between recovering from the ACL injury and the surrounding issues on offense, Connor's improved performance in 2020 was enough to earn that opportunity. .
But that doesn't preclude the Cowboys from eyeing other options this offseason. If a veteran guard can be had for a bargain, or if a value pick presents itself on Day 2 of the draft, Dallas might add a new competitor to the mix.
Williams' already has one potential challenger to worry about in third-year prospect Connor McGovern. After finally getting healthy and seeing action in 2021, McGovern could be in a position to push for the starting job depending on his offseason development.
Losing the starting job for Williams wouldn't necessarily mean losing his roster spot. With just a $2.9 million salary cap hit in 2021, Connor could easily remain on the roster at that point as a backup who has versatility between guard and tackle.
This isn't to say that I think Williams will or even should be bumped from his current role. Given what he went through his first two years in the NFL, delayed development isn't that surprising. If he can build on what we saw in 2020 then Connor may very well earn a second contract.
The point here is that no outcome is all that predictable right now for Connor Williams' NFL future. There's as much reason to think that he'll be with a new team in 2022 as that he'll be one of the Cowboys' starting guards for the next five seasons.
That uncertainty could push the Dallas Cowboys to act now if they see an opportunity to improve immediately or prepare for Williams' 2022 free agency. While not one of the biggest issues facing the team this offseason, it's a factor that could impact how they spend some of their offseason resources.
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Other Cowboys 2021 Position Previews
DE | DT | LB | CB | S
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