Calling the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line one of the league’s best units has become a fixture in recent NFL history. 2020 presents a big challenge to that status after losing Travis Frederick to early retirement. However, the Cowboys have been making moves the last few years to remain solvent, if not standouts, with their offensive line.
This really goes back to the 2018 Draft and selecting Connor Williams in the 2nd Round. Many teams would have decided that having three perennial Pro Bowlers (Frederick, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith) and another young stud in La’el Collins allowed them to take a break at that fifth starting spot.
The Cowboys did that for a while, actually. They employed bargain bin players like Ron Leary and Jonathan Cooper at left guard, trusting the overall strength of the line to make up for any issue.
But that strategy became riskier in more recent years. As Tyron Smith started missing occasional games with nagging injuries, and especially after Frederick went out for all of 2018, it became clear that Dallas couldn’t count on its elite players to lift everyone around them like they used to.
Thus we saw them draft Williams in 2018; a versatile talent who could potentially play guard or tackle. While he’s been used at guard the last two years, Connor could easily wind up at one of the tackle spots before his Dallas days are over.
An even more surprising selection came in 2019; Connor McGovern going in the 3rd round. The move stunned us initially as Frederick was on the way back and Williams was expected to keep the starting job at left guard.
But after Travis announced his surprising retirement a week into 2020 free agency, the logic behind that McGovern pick became much clearer.
Less than a week before Travis’ announcement, the Cowboys had also re-signed free agent Joe Looney. It was a surprise with McGovern in the stable, given that Connor was seen as a natural replacement for Looney as a versatile interior line backup.
Did Dallas re-sign Joe because they knew Frederick was leaving? It’s logical and even likely that they did. Rather than just hope for the best with McGovern, the Cowboys brought back the veteran who stepped in for Travis in 2018 and helped get Dallas to the playoffs.
But the Cowboys haven’t stopped there.
Sacrificing one of their 5th-Round picks to do it, Dallas traded up to the end of the 4th Round in the 2020 Draft to grab Tyler Biadasz from Wisconsin. That gives the Cowboys three players to compete for the starting center job now, with Biadasz and McGovern also contending to hold the job long term.
While Frederick’s departure has put a spotlight at center, Dallas also had to deal with Cameron Fleming’s exit as the backup offensive tackle. There was a thought that the job would go to Brandon Knight, who briefly filled in at right tackle last year and performed well during a La’el Collins injury.
But just a few days ago, the Cowboys made another big investment by signing former 1st-Round pick Cameron Erving. Capable of playing anywhere on the line, Erving’s most recent work has been at left tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Erving’s arrival really drives home the message; the Dallas Cowboys are giving themselves plenty of options for the offensive line in 2020.
There are a lot of ways these could all play out. While we can count on Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins reprising their roles this season, the center and left guard spots are hardly written in stone.
Yes, even Connor Williams’ job at left guard is far from guaranteed. If it hadn’t been for a pectoral injury last year, Connor McGovern just might have taken it from him then.
Don’t forget about when Xavier Su’a-Filo, now with the Bengals, nearly Wally Pipped the left guard job away from Williams in 2018.
Now Cam Erving is in the mix; a former 19th-overall pick who’s still just 27 years old. While the initial thought is that he’s here for the swing tackle job, his pedigree and starting experience make him a contender at guard and center as well.
Tyler Biadasz was considered a steal where the Cowboys drafted him and has the ability to immediately contribute. He’s not the elite talent that Travis Frederick was, but he’s still got the chops to be a starting NFL center.
And again, Joe Looney is back for a reason. He has the team’s trust after 2018 and will probably open training camp as the starter.
The versatility of all these players means the ripple effect could impact multiple spots on the line. That’s how last year’s starting left guard could wind up as this season’s swing tackle.
There’s still much to learn about some of these players and months left to see how it all unfolds. But what we know today is that, to their benefit, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t lacking for options at two starting positions and key backup spots on the offensive line.
And, of course, whoever gets those jobs still gets to play with Tyron, Zack, and La’el.
Even with Travis Frederick gone, it means Dallas should still have one of the league’s best lines in the 2020 season.