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Cowboys Offensive Line Wins Award, But Facing Changes

Jess Haynie

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Travis Frederick, Ronald Leary, Tyron Smith, Offensive Line

Lost in the hubbub of the big awards at last Saturday's NFL Honors show was the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line being named Offensive Line of the Year. The glory may not last long for some of the league's best blockers, though, as the 2017 offseason should come with some roster changes.

2016 was the first year that this award has been given and they couldn't have picked better recipients . Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, and Ronald Leary were the foundation that helped the Cowboys' rookie stars on offense, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, have tremendous seasons.

With expiring contracts and salary cap concerns on the horizon, how might Dallas' award-winning offensive line look different in 2017?

Ronald Leary, Ron Leary

Guard Ronald Leary will be a free agent.

Left Guard

Ronald Leary is set to be an unrestricted free agent. The Cowboys will likely let Leary go and give the job back to La'el Collins, who was the starter in 2015. There are a few reasons why this is the most logical move.

Some have argued that Leary is the better player. It's easy to look at the seasons DeMarco Murray had in 2014 and Ezekiel Elliott last year, with Leary starting at guard, and develop that perception.

However, La'el Collins not only had Darren McFadden carrying the ball in 2015 but the absence of a passing game when Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore were at quarterback. His two full games in 2016 were at the start of the year when Ezekiel Elliott was still adjusting to NFL speed.

Dallas needs to find out quickly what Collins is worth. This is the final year of his contract, although Dallas will be able to give him a Restricted Free Agent tender in 2018. Still, whether it's deciding what level of tender to give or maybe giving Collins a completely new contract, the Cowboys need to see how he performs.

Not only do the Cowboys need to find out more about La'el Collins but Ronald Leary may quickly plateau as an asset. As has been known throughout his career, Leary has a knee condition which puts his long-term future in question. He has already played more and longer than some thought possible.

If not for Collins, Dallas might be willing to keep giving Leary short-term contracts as long as his knees allow. However, Collins' potential is too great to leave on the bench and Leary is too good to be a backup again. He should easily find a starting job elsewhere and deserves that opportunity.

Doug Free

Tackle Doug Free could be a salary cap casualty.

Right Tackle

I wrote extensively a few weeks ago about why Dallas needs to part ways with Doug Free. To summarize, he has become too much of a liability in pass protection and still generates too many penalties. Free is still a great run blocker but at this point that doesn't outweigh his negatives.

Another big reason is financial. Dallas can create $5 million in cap space by cutting Free. Dallas is going to need some cash as they try to sort out Tony Romo's contract and find some needed upgrades on defense.

Of course, creating cap room is only worthwhile if you don't have to turn around and spend it all on a replacement. A quality free agent right tackle can cost about as much as we'd save by releasing Doug Free. That has led some to think he should just be retained for one more year.

I see it differently. For one, Dallas has a few in-house options with Chaz Green, a former third-round pick, and reserve Emmett Cleary. Both looked good in limited duty when playing for Tyron Smith at left tackle. In many cases, someone who can handle playing on the left is even better when they go to the right.

If a Cleary-Green battle for the job doesn't do it for you, Dallas could also look for a cheaper veteran option. Can we really say that Doug Free in 2017 would be much better than some other veteran, age 30-35, willing to play one a one-year deal for the veteran minimum? Free's play last year leaves that open to debate.

La'el Collins

Guard La'el Collins

La'el Collins to Right Tackle?

Some have suggested that Dallas could solve both of their problems by moving La'el Collins to right tackle. Collins played left tackle at LSU but has been at guard since entering the NFL in 2015.

Collins started at right tackle when he joined the Cowboys but ended up at guard before the end of preseason. How much of that is due to Collins struggling at tackle has never been confirmed. Dallas may have simply felt his best position with the highest upside was at guard.

Could the Cowboys cut Doug Free, move La'el Collins into his spot, and then keep Ronald Leary? It's not out of the question, but it all comes down to three factors:

  1. Do the Cowboys think Collins can be effective enough at RT?
  2. Does Dallas feel moving Collins would stymie his development?
  3. Do the Cowboys trust Ron Leary to keep going?

Unfortunately, we can't know the answers to those questions. Dallas will make it clear how they feel about all of these issues in how they handle the upcoming offseason.

For all that's unknown, though, it seems likely that at least one or two of the starting offensive line positions will change. Hopefully, even if some players leave, that award-winning level of play will not go with them.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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2 Comments
  • Bobs_Vendetta

    People have been dissing Doug Free for a long time. Replacing him with Emmit Cleary, a veteran minimum type, or Chaz Green, who can’t stay healthy, is ridiculous. I would keep free, extend his contract for another year (2018) and draft an OT with a late 1 or late 2 to be the Cowboys swing tackle for 2 years before taking over for Free on the right side. Then sign a good backup at guard to replace Leary.

  • Randy Martin

    I’m not a big fan of (Drivekiller) Free myself and would be fine if they cut him but only if there is a confidence he can be replaced with a quality player. Cleary is an unknown and Green, when healthy shows he can do the job. The problem is he can’t stay on the field. So it is very clear that Tackle is a little discussed position of need in the upcoming draft and the draft is weak at that position this year. The other pressing issue is an extension for Zack Martin to solidify and maintain stability on that line.

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Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star 1

When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.

Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.

Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.

The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.

Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.

The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.

Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star

These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.

Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Ezekiel Elliott, Bears
Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports

Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.

However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.

Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.

This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.

So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.

What Does Zack Martin Have in Common With Larry Allen?

#71: RG Zack Martin

2017 Ranking: #58.

I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.

It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.

What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?

#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott

2017 Ranking: 7.

Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.

Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.

This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.

#39: LT Tyron Smith

2017 Ranking: 18.

I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.

Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.

With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.

#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence

2017 Ranking: Unranked. 

Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.

This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.

https://twitter.com/TankLawrence/status/1003853184782094336

Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.

The Snub: C Travis Frederick

The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?

Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.

✭✭✭✭✭

But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.

Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!

Tell me what you think about "How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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5 Winners from Dallas Cowboys OTAs and Minicamp

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Caras Nuevas, ¿Tenemos Cornerbacks?, Adiós Ware
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have completed the offseason part of their practices and are now eyeing the start of training camp in Oxnard, California on July 26th. The offseason stuff doesn't necessarily show what a team thinks about a player near as much as training camp, so I won't look at any losers because these practices have varying personnel at times.

That being said, there certainly were some winners during the offseason.

1. Jaylon Smith, Linebacker

Every day removed from his injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl is another day closer to potentially seeing the All-American linebacker that would have been a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

With the knee injury, there's always been some doubt about Jaylon returning to that level of play, but as offseason practices wore on it was becoming clear that he's much healthier and much more mobile than he was in 2017.

Both of those things are strong signs in the right direction for the third year pro.

After sitting out his rookie season to rehab and then having some good moments and some really bad moments in 2017, it sounds like he's making progress to be a difference maker in 2018.

During OTAs and minicamp sessions that were open to the media, Jaylon was seen running with the first-team defense every time they took the field. Now, some of that is due to the Cowboys limiting the snaps of veteran All-Pro Sean Lee and rookie first round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who came up with a sprained ankle, but the fact that Smith's snaps weren't limited should only be seen as a good sign.

We still have a long way to go until the Dallas Cowboys strap it on for their week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers, but Jaylon Smith is on an excellent trajectory.

Anyone with a Clear, Eye, View can see that.

2. Anthony Brown, Cornerback

One of the bigger surprises during the offseason practices so far has to be Anthony Brown, and not Jourdan Lewis, running with the first team nickel defense.

Jourdan Lewis proved he was a really good corner in his rookie year, both in the slot and on the outside, while Anthony Brown struggled at times. Knowing that new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers his corners to be tall, long, and strong has led to some speculation that Lewis may not be a fit in Richard's scheme.

That's certainly a possibility. The more realistic possibility is that Brown, with more seniority, was getting the opportunities first as is often the case with Jason Garrett coached teams during the offseason.

While Brown is a pretty good slot cornerback in his own right, this might only be temporary.

Understanding Cowboys Remaining Offseason "To-Do List"

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

3. Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver

As I read reports from OTAs and minicamp practices, one thing that stood out is that Michael Gallup was winning and winning a lot.

When asked in a mailbag who had been building the best rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott, Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com had this to say:

"Bryan: That’s a great question. The guys that come to mind for this [sic] me are Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin. Those guys have found ways to generate space and have been reliable catching the ball when it’s thrown in their direction."

Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com

Just a few days earlier Broaddus stated that Cole Beasley and Gallup were the only ones getting open with any consistency.

Now, it's still early and it's padless practice, but that's an encouraging sign for the third round pick out of Colorado State.

Typically it takes a year for wide receivers to adjust to the NFL game, especially with how much press coverage is played by NFL defensive backs. One of the byproducts of Kris Richard's existence as the defensive backs coach is that they're playing more press coverage. He's teaching his DB's to be more aggressive and more physical at the line of scrimmage.

For Gallup and the rest of the wide receiver group, that can only help them as they get ready to face opposing defenses. One way to disrupt timing-based routes or an offense that relies on separation and yards after the catch is to disrupt the receiver at the snap. Every practice, these guys are working to beat the press.

As a rookie wide receiver, this can only benefit Gallup -- in particular -- as that will be a big transition from college where defenses are playing off the line of scrimmage against the countless number of spread offenses that exist.

The fact that he's already winning reps during practices against some pretty good corners is a great sign for the Dallas Cowboys.

He may not be a starter in this offense right away, but I doubt it takes long before he's cemented himself in three and four wide receiver personnel groupings.

4. Chaz Green, Guard

I'm sure you aren't a fan of seeing Chaz Green's name anywhere near a "winners" list. As bad as the Atlanta Falcons game was for him, we can't ignore the fact that Green got a lot of first team repetitions during OTAs and minicamp while Zack Martin negotiated his contract extension.

Either that means the Dallas Cowboys haven't given up on their third round pick from 2015 or they're trying to get as many practice snaps out of him as possible to be able to make a clearer decision regarding his future with the team.

Getting to play with the ones is encouraging, but he still has a lot to prove during training camp to keep a spot on the roster. Green's going to get a long leash as a former premium draft pick. We'll see if he takes advantage of it.

5. Jihad Ward, Defensive Tackle

Maliek Collins hurt his foot -- again -- and David Irving was dealing with off the field stuff -- again -- leaving Jihad Ward with a lot of opportunities to play against the first team offensive line as the three-technique defensive tackle.

On June 4th, I asked Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com who his biggest surprises on offense and defense were during OTAs:

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

Cedrick Wilson and Jihad Ward https://t.co/kgcgJkTj3U

If Broaddus is encouraged by Ward's progress, I am too.

He's going to have a lot of opportunity to get a strangle hold on the 3T defensive tackle spot with Maliek Collins not set to be back until late in training camp, and David Irving suspended the first four games of the 2018 season.

The Dallas Cowboys liked Ward coming out of college and had him just behind Maliek Collins on their 2016 NFL Draft Big Board.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

There's still a lot of practice reps that have yet to take place, but the Dallas Cowboys have gotten some encouraging contributions from these players. As we look to training camp, who will you be watching to see if the stand-out and can make the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster?



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