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Dallas Cowboys Have Missing Piece at Offensive Line

Jess Haynie

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Dallas Cowboys Have Big Hole on Offensive Line
Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

There are a lot of positions being talked about right now for the Dallas Cowboys. Upgrades are needed at several spots, but one critical position needs even more than that. Left guard is completely unmanned, and that could be a big problem for the 2018 offensive line if it's not addressed soon.

Last year's starter, Jonathan Cooper, is currently an unrestricted free agent. So are backups Joe Looney and Byron Bell.

Right now, Chaz Green is the only other non-starter under contract who has any NFL experience at left guard. Nobody wants to see him on the field next year.

Dez Bryant may be a big topic but at least he's under contract. The same goes for safety, where we at least have options to turn to if free agency or the draft don't yield anything.

Left guard, though? The cupboard is bare.

La'el Collins' Position Flex Could Come in Handy for Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins

One option could be to move La'el Collins back to guard, where many feel he has the most upside, and then find a new right tackle. But that would be changing two positions to fill one hole, and Collins was playing well at tackle by the end of the year.

And obviously, we don't want to see Chaz Green playing that spot either. Or any spot. Ever.

No, at this point it makes sense for Dallas to leave Collins where he is and either sign or draft a starting LG. The question is how much do they want to invest?

The Cowboys are already shelling out big bucks to Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. Even Collins counts about $7 million against the cap. They have three first-round picks already tied up in the offensive line.

Some thought veteran free agent Josh Sitton would be a nice option, but he got picked up by the Dolphins today for about $8-9 million per year. That's more than Dallas can afford given their limited cap space and other needs.

No, the LG in 2018 is going to need to be a salary cap bargain. That means either re-signing Jonathan Cooper or Joe Looney on the cheap, or perhaps paying a rookie salary to a high draft pick.

Last year's 19th overall pick, O.J. Howard, counted just $2 million against the Bucs' salary cap in 2017.

There are some older veterans who could be cheap band-aid options, such as Matt Slauson or Evan Smith. But you don't get very far down some lists of available guards before you see Jonathan Cooper's name, and continuity is always a plus.

The point here is don't expect any big move, even with the enormity of the need. Dallas will likely reach an agreement with Cooper after he's tested the free agent waters a bit, assuming nobody else scoops him up.

If not, the need at left guard will become increasingly dire the further we get into the offseason.



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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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Shawn King

    March 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    I agree. Sign Cooper on the cheap if possible. Perhaps a healthy Tyron and an additional year under his belt on the line will give us a stopgap. If not, perhaps a third round look for that pesky LG hole. Btw, your people need to proofread your articles better. 🙂

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      March 15, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      Last time I try to post one from my phone. 🙁

      Thanks for reading!

      • prince

        March 15, 2018 at 10:01 pm

        You’re a great sport! Haha

  2. Billy Pinson

    March 15, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Why does no one ever mention the need for lb’s? What do we have left? Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson? This to me is our biggest priority. Any thoughts?

    • Carlos

      March 15, 2018 at 9:06 pm

      We need to pick at least 2 lb in The draft. Sean lee always get injuried and jaylon has knee issues

      • prince

        March 15, 2018 at 10:02 pm

        I say one early one late and a cheap veteran.

  3. Chuck Wright

    March 15, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    Have zero problem re-signing Cooper. . .and hope they use a draft pick on an OG. . . now as things are shaping out, if someone like Denver, the Jets or the Giants don’t take a QB in round 1, I am hoping one of them wants to jump up to #19 for either Mason Rudolph (better QB than people think) or Lamar Jackson.

    Dallas gets their high 2nd and 3rd, now Da Boys have 8 picks in the 1st 4 rounds, WR, 2 LBs, 1 Tech OG TE and S.

    Serious influx of talent. . . .

  4. Tony Farthing

    March 15, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Trade Smith and/Fred…
    Draft and keep it moving.

    Both underperformed and may never repeat best years…

    However, the reputation they currently have as amongst “the best” (admitting, they’re not on a steep decline, yet) should yield max return and relax cap…

    anticipating Dak and a few other key players will make bank soon…

    mobile QB amd dynamic RB gives you wiggle room to transition, successfully.

    waiting another season to cash in on Smith/Freday be a huge regret.

    IJS

    • prince

      March 15, 2018 at 10:04 pm

      Smith maybe Fred no way!

  5. Russ_Te

    March 16, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Remember both Ronald Leary and Nate Newton were undrafted walk-ons. So you have a chance for a sleeper at OG, and some of these extra low picks this year may be going in that direction. I am as concerned with Tyron Smith’s durability as I am with LG, so if I can get a swing OL up the draft I’m doing it. Even bundling picks for it.

    The Cowboys are apparently marshaling FA $ for 1 impact player. IMO it needs to be a swing OL or a very fast WR, then go high for the other at draft.

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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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Player News

DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class

Kevin Brady

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Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.

Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.

One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.

ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.

Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.

Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.



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When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott

John Williams

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All-22 Notes: Connor Williams Stands Out in Wild Card Win

Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.

In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.

According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.

During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...

...of his offensive lineman.

During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.

As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.

It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.

With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.



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