While the Dallas Cowboys have many areas of concern in the 2022 offseason, one of them isn't at right guard. That's because Zack Martin, even after eight seasons and turning 31 last year, remains arguably the best guard in football.
2020 was an unfortunate anomaly in Martin's otherwise near-perfect career. He missed five games between a concussion in October and a calf strain later in the season. Zack was still very good when he played and even impressed with a brief deployment at right tackle, we couldn't help but be a little concerned that Martin was starting to edge into the declining portion of his career.
Thankfully, last season assuaged those fears. Zack returned to his usual form and statuses as a First-team All-Pro selection and Pro Bowler. He only missed one game all year and that was due to COVID-19, not any injury. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Martin was the top-graded guard in the entire NFL in 2021.
But as LL Cool J might say, “Don't call it a comeback. He's been here for years.”
Indeed, Zack Martin is still rockin' his peers and provides incredible stability for the Cowboys on their offensive line. He's a stalwart presence who not only helps the players around him but also gives Dallas confidence to restructure his contract to fund other roster renovations.
You could reasonably put a question mark next to every other spot on the offensive line this offseason. Tyron Smith and La'el Collins are still under contract for next year, but between Tyron's chronic health issues and Collins' mercurial status with the organization it's hard to say with absolute certainty where they both stand.
Even if Collins remains in Dallas next year, could a move to left guard be in the works? Connor Williams is a free agent that nobody seems to want back and Connor McGovern did nothing with his starting opportunity last year. Bumping La'el back to guard and starting Terence Steele at right tackle may be the Cowboys' best option in 2021.
Things are also rocky at center where Tyler Biadasz was a low-graded and highly-penalized performer last. He's still just 24 and only entering his third season, but the Cowboys could be intrigued by potential upgrades in the coming months over the former 4th-Round pick.
Again, thank goodness for Zack Martin! You can feel so much better about making some of these other decisions knowing you have an elite player at right guard to help the surrounding issues.
Because of Martin's exceptional work in 2021 the Cowboys now have little-to-no reason not to restructure his current contract. Over The Cap estimates that Dallas will create $7.15 million in cap space by converting a portion of Zack's base salary into bonus money.
As you likely know, restructuring isn't the same as taking a pay cut. Martin still gets the same money as before but only under a different designation in his contract language.
In fact, restructuring is actually good for the player. It pushes more dead money into later years of the contract and makes him harder to release. For the team, it can be seen as robbing Peter to pay Paul.
But in the case of a guy like Zack Martin you don't expected him to stop being one of the league's best guards for at least the next 2-3 seasons. His contract expires after 2024 and that's a perfect opportunity to reassess his performance and compensation at 34-years-old.
Sure, the team would love to preserve it's cap flexibility with even their best players. But unlike concerns you might have with restructuring Ezekiel Elliott or Tyron Smith's deals, wanting to keep future options open, Zack's someone the team should have no qualms about increasing their commitment to.
Thankfully, Martin's big year in 2021 helped make all of these conversations easier. Instead of being another pain point on the offensive line, Zack is all the way back to being an elite player who is worth every penny paid and every bit of cap space he consumes.
With plenty of other problems to deal with this offseason, the Cowboys can be very grateful for a guy like Zack Martin. He's as good as they come, helping make Dallas a playoff team again in 2021 and hopefully even more next season.