The 2018 Dallas Cowboys will be bringing back most of their starters from last year. Jonathan Cooper, who started most of the season at left guard, will not be among them. Naturally then, the guard position is a hot topic as we head into this week's NFL Draft.
With Cooper leaving in free agency and no great young prospect behind him, taking a guard as high as the first round has been discussed for the Cowboys' draft plans. This would not be a surprise give the high priority that Dallas places on their offensive line, and the reality that there is a starting spot which needs filling.
The Cowboys didn't leave themselves totally dependent on the draft, though. They added some veteran free agents who may be able to take the job as at least a one-year measure.
Before we get into those possibilities, let's briefly give thanks for the stability at the other interior line spots. All-Pros Travis Frederick and Zack Martin will be back and we all sleep better for knowing it.
We also assume that Martin will be getting a shiny, new, long-term contract before the start of training camp. The former first-rounders are meant to be fixtures for years to come.
Will nother high draft pick be joining them, or will Dallas rely on their veteran options to find a new starter at left guard?
The Cowboys signed three guys who could factor into this discussion. One is a returning player, Joe Looney, who has been the backup center and a reserve guard for two seasons. Looney knows the system and has started at different points in his career, which may give him a leg up on the competition.
Dallas also added free agent Marcus Martin, who has started even more games than Looney despite playing fewer season. Both players have position flex at center and guard, so if one earns the starting guard job then the other become your primary interior line backup.
The signing of offensive tackle Cameron Fleming could also have some impact. Potentially the best player of the three, Fleming might earn a starting spot at right tackle and allow La'el Collins to be moved back to guard. While Dallas would likely hope to find another option, this could be their backup plan if nothing else works out.
There will be a few other bodies in camp, most notably Chaz Green. The former third-round pick has not been cut despite his 2017 woes and has played at both tackle and guard at times. At this point, though, it's hard to see him as anything more than a backup.
Given these options, and the tectonic shift that just happened at wide receiver, it's easy to see why Dallas might not spend a high pick at guard. They may be prioritizing receivers, tight ends, safeties, and linebackers higher given other roster needs.
Still, this is a run-first team. What's more, the quarterback is needing to bounce back from a poor second season. A strong offensive line is vital to those goals, and perhaps the key to success this year.
I don't think Dallas would spend their first-rounder at guard, but anything after that is on the table. They may be hoping a guy like Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez will fall to them in the second round.
In that case, depending on the player, I could even see the Cowboys trading up from #50 to snag a guy who could be a Week One starter.
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