Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones spoke to reporters over the weekend at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, and obviously one of the topics of interest was the team's offensive line. The line was horrible in 2012, as has been thoroughly chronicled here, and though I agree with Jones' opinion that it showed improvement as the year went on, I submit that it had no other direction in which to go.
The question is what to do now. Jones mentioned that quarterback Tony Romo's ability to move around and make plays on the run helps, as he doesn't require a top-flight offensive line to be productive. But I'm certain that Romo would enjoy it if he were better protected, and obviously the Cowboys should not be making their offensive line plans based on the idea that their quarterback can succeed behind a substandard one. They need to get better. Jones suggests that they can get better with continued development from the guys they have:
Left tackle Tyron Smith is Jones’ only sure bet, but he liked what he saw at the end of the year from Doug Free and Jermey Parnell. Jones acknowledged the Cowboys “need more,” from free-agent pickups Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau in 2013, and he could see center Phil Costa as the starter “for several years.” He also touted the futures of Kevin Kowalski and Ronald Leary.
“Now does that make you sleep at night because you know you need depth? We might be talking about your depth there when I’m really alluding two five or six guys, which could be your starters,” Jones said. “I think we’ve got a chance to have a plus from a couple of these young guys, and we’re very likely, through a combination of free agency or this draft to get serious about another guard-center type there.”
Well, I think that last thing he said is the most encouraging if you're a Cowboys fan, because what the Cowboys really need is more elite-level talent on the line. Smith is the only current member of the Dallas line who appears to have elite-level talent, and part of the problem in 2012 was that he needed time to transition from right tackle to left tackle. I think he's a franchise-caliber player on the left side and will be more than fine there for years to come.
But while it's foolish to think the Cowboys could assemble a line on which all five positions had that kind of talent (Smith was, after all, a top-10 draft pick), they need at least one more. If they could draft or sign a top-shelf "guard-center type," of which there are a few in this year's draft, the whole thing would start to look at lot better. Then they'd be trying to fill three spots with the guys they already have on the roster instead of four, and that's feels a lot more manageable. I don't know if they'll be in position to pick someone like Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper in the first round, but if they're thinking along those lines I think they're doing themselves a favor. Finding someone besides Smith they can plug into their line and not have to worry about him for the next decade would be a fine use of that first-round pick.