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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

2 Comments

  1. Bobs_Vendetta

    February 6, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    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.

  2. Randy Martin

    February 7, 2017 at 10:36 am

    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

Tony Romo Won’t Be the Next Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator

John Williams

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It Is Time for the Dallas Cowboys to Move on From Tony Romo

The pipe dream has been going on since former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback-turned CBS Analyst Tony Romo hung up his cleats for the black blazer. Fans from all corners of Cowboys Nation have clamored for a return to the field or at worst the sideline as the Cowboys offensive coordinator.

Let me stop you right there. It's not happening.

First of all. He's never been a coach at any level of football, so to assume that he could leave the broadcast booth and step into coaching an NFL offense and doing so at a high level is a huge leap of faith in number 9. Sure, Jon Gruden left the Monday Night Football booth for his lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders, but he had won a Super Bowl and had been an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL for years before joining the broadcasting ranks.

Tony Romo has an excellent understanding of football. He displays it on a regular basis during the CBS broadcasts. But doing from the broadcast view, seeing what the defense is trying to do, and calling the plays to counter what the defense is trying to do are very different things.

Secondly, the coaching job would be a major time commitment that at the moment he doesn't have. Even if he's working a 40 hour work week in preparation for his three-hour time slot, the demands on NFL coaches are easily twice that with many coaches putting in 100 hour work weeks in preparation for Sundays. Tony Romo has a family that even he's talked about as part of the reason that he went into broadcasting instead of looking to hop on with another NFL team.

Finally, the job would mean a significant pay cut from what Romo is already making. It's estimated that the former Cowboys quarterback is making anywhere from $5-10 million dollars a year with CBS. Jason Garrett is making $6 million per year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, so even if the Jones family was willing to pay first-time NFL coach Tony Romo a ton of money to come out of the broadcast booth, there's zero chance they pay him what he's making as a broadcaster. To do so, would be to undercut the head coach. Jason Garrett is Jerry Jones' guy. The owner and general manager wants Garrett to be the guy that leads the Cowboys to Super Bowl success, so there's zero chance he'd pay a coordinator close to Garrett's money, which would lead to constant speculation about the head coach and his future with the organization.

I love Tony Romo. His jersey is one of only two Cowboys jerseys that I own -- along with Darren Woodson -- and I think he could make a good coach one day, but I'd be hard pressed to see him come out of the coaching booth to take a coordinator job and have immediate success. The guys that are offensive coordinators in the NFL have been grinding for years to earn their jobs. Most started as position coaches -- see Sean McVay as Redskins TE coach. The Dallas Cowboys will spend the next few days, and perhaps weeks, identifying their replacement for Scott Linehan, but let's put to bed the dream of Romo as offensive coordinator.

It's just not going to happen.



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Player News

Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick

Jess Haynie

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Devin Smith

The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.

Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:

Jason Bernstein on Twitter

Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh

Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.

Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.

The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.

For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!



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Dallas Cowboys

Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways

John Williams

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Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.

Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.

The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.

Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.

Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.

In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.

This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.

Mike Garafolo on Twitter

Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan

Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.

The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.

Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.



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