The Cowboys’ offensive line is going to look considerably different in 2022. With new faces up and down the lineup, how concerned should Dallas be about its offensive front?
Connor Williams is now a Miami Dolphin. La’el Collins is now a Cincinnati Bengal. Dallas replaced Williams by using its 1st-round pick on Tyler Smith out of Tulsa. Collins is being replaced with Terence Steele who started 13 games for Dallas in 2021.
Last season, Dallas had one of the best trios of offensive tackles in the NFL in Tyron Smith, Collins, and Steele. Smith was elite when healthy, Collins is a rock-solid right tackle on an affordable contract, and Steele was a great swing tackle that played admirably during Collins’ six-game suspension.
The Dallas front office had grown tired of Collins’ off-field troubles and released him, effectively making Steele the starting right tackle. The issue with that is Collins is clearly the better player, maturity issues aside.
With Collins now in Cincinnati, depth at offensive tackle is a much bigger concern than people are realizing. Tyron Smith is still a great left tackle, but he has missed 32 games since 2016. Heading into his age 32 season, Smith’s health is anything but a guarantee. Combine that with this being Steele’s first time as a full-time starter, and you notice definite concerns at the tackle position.
Steele played well at times in 2021 and was much improved from what he showed in his rookie season in 2020, but there were still times where he struggled mightily. Watching the tape in which he struggled gives some pause on how good you should feel about Steele playing right tackle for 17 games.
Steele could easily take another leap in 2022 and continue to improve, and this is not to suggest that he won’t. It’s just that the Cowboys placed a fairly large bet on Steele to take this leap and become a quality right tackle.
If Steele doesn’t take that leap, the Cowboys are in trouble, especially given Tyron Smith’s health concerns. As of now, the only other tackles realistically competing for the swing tackle job are 2021 4th-round pick Josh Ball and 2022 5th-round pick Matt Waletzko. Ball and Waletzko have played a combined 0 snaps in the NFL.
If Smith goes down, Dallas is in serious trouble at the tackle position given the lack of experienced depth. This is why it didn’t seem advisable to release Collins despite his affordable contract. Dallas badly needs Ball or Waletzko to take hold of the swing tackle job, otherwise Dallas could look elsewhere.
We have seen the Cowboys bring in veterans during training camp if they didn’t love what they saw out of a positional group. Look no further than Malik Hooker in 2021. If Ball and Waletzko truly aren’t ready and Dallas doesn’t feel great about giving either the swing tackle job, there are plenty of free agents still available that you can survive with if Tyron Smith missed time. Veterans like Duane Brown, Eric Fisher, Riley Reiff, and several others are options if the Cowboys hate what they see from their young tackles during camp.
It’s hard to feel pretty good about the current gameplan with the Dallas offensive line. There are gambles up and down the offensive front, save for All-Pro Zack Martin at right guard. At left tackle, Tyron Smith’s health is problematic. At left guard, Tyler Smith has shown potential in the offseason and is a 1st-round pick, but he didn’t play much guard in college and is now being thrown to the wolves in the NFL.
At center, Dallas hasn’t been thrilled with the work of Tyler Biadasz at times and he is in a bit of a competition with Matt Farniok for the starting job. At right tackle, Steele is unproven and the depth at tackle behind him and Tyron Smith is even more unproven.
It was abundantly clear after the playoff loss to San Francisco that the Dallas offensive front was completely outplayed and that the offensive front needed to improve. It requires some serious mental gymnastics to say the offensive line has improved heading into 2022.
The Cowboys are counting on several young and inexperienced players to play well and contribute on the offensive line. The performance of the young linemen will be a key storyline throughout training camp and the preseason. Dallas bet big on its youth movement. Only time will tell if these gambles paid off.
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