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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.

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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.

Dallas Cowboys

Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

Sean Martin

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Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

After hiring Paul Alexander to fill their vacant OL coaching position, the Dallas Cowboys are continuing to retool their offensive staff below Scott Linehan. Sanjay Lal has been hired to coach the Cowboys’ wide receivers, replacing Derek Dooley.

Lal has experience as a WR coach with four different teams, dating back to 2009 with the Oakland Raiders. He was promoted up to this position after serving as the Raiders’ quality control coach from 2007-08.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys have reached an agreement with Sanjay Lal to become the team’s WR coach. Lal was with Indianapolis last season and replaces Derek Dooley on the staff.

Most recently, Sanjay Lal coached the receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He has also been with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

In this interview with the Colts, Lal mentions being very detail-oriented with a focus on the technical aspects of playing receiver.

Lal beats out former Cowboys WR Miles Austin for this position, earning the right to lead a room of receivers in desperate need of fresh talent. In an offseason that’s been about finding fresh ideas with the coaching staff so far though, the Cowboys have a new voice on offense.

Tell us what you think about “Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Losing Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus to Colts

Jess Haynie

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Matt Eberflus, Sean Lee

Multiple sources are reporting Matt Eberflus — who has been the linebackers coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys — will leave to join the Indianapolis Colts as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus has been with Dallas since 2011, having joined Rob Ryan’s staff when Ryan become the coordinator for the Cowboys’ defense.

He has been the linebackers coach during his entire Dallas tenure and was also named passing game coordinator in 2016.

Tom Pelissero on Twitter

With Josh McDaniels ticketed for the #Colts, former #Cowboys assistant Matt Eberflus is expected to come along as defensive coordinator, I’m told. Lot of parts falling in place now.

If not the Colts, some thought Matt Eberflus might end up replacing Matt Patricia as the defensive coordinator in New England. Either way, it does not appear Dallas could have kept him around while Rod Marinelli remains in his current position.

Eberflus’ work in Dallas speaks for itself, and primarily through LB Sean Lee.

He has been Lee’s position coach for all but his rookie season, and in that time Lee has been one of the top defensive players in all of football.

Beyond Lee, Eberflus has also been able to get quality play out of mid-round picks like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. We also saw Jaylon Smith make significant progress this season.

Given Matt Eberflus has never worked with Josh McDaniels before, the fact he was on the Colts’ radar says a lot.

Make no mistake; the Cowboys lost a good one here.

Don’t panic, however. Coach Marinelli has cast a very wide net during his time in the NFL and there are a lot of potential guys, some with plenty of experience, that Dallas might look to.

It’s entirely possible that Eberflus’ replacement will be someone who Marinelli spends 2018 grooming to take over as the defensive coordinator.

Still, of all the coaching changes so far for Dallas, this one hurts most.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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