NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer breaks down the Dallas Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2015, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2016.
Under contract: Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Chaz Green.
Free agents: Mackenzy Bernadeau, Charles Brown, Ronald Leary (restricted), Darrion Weems.
A look back: New offensive line coach Frank Pollack had a difficult job in a way because the expectations were so high after what the Cowboys accomplished in 2014 and the talent of this group.
Things weren’t as good as they were in 2014 when the Cowboys ran for 2,354 yards, but they still ran for 1,890 yards and the pass protection was better despite four different starting quarterbacks.
Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year, but an argument can be made that only Frederick was better in 2015 than he was in 2014. La’el Collins took over for Ronald Leary at left guard and showed flash plays to suggest big-time potential. Doug Free was better later in the year than he was earlier in the season.
Leary would start on almost any other team, but the Cowboys made a commitment to Collins by fully guaranteeing his contract when he signed as an undrafted free agent. Mackenzy Bernadeau started one game and served as the backup interior lineman on gameday. Charles Brown was added the second week of the season as the swing tackle and saw spot duty when the Cowboys went with their jumbo package.
Green opened the season on the physically unable to perform list because of hip surgery performed in the offseason. The third-round pick was activated to the 53-man roster later in the year but did not play a snap.
A look ahead: More than any other group, the offensive line needs continuity. They did not enter the 2015 season with any because the group did not play a snap together in the preseason because of injuries. That affected the somewhat slow start.
The more they play together, the better they should be.
Smith, Frederick and Martin are regarded as some of the top performers in the league at their positions. Most importantly: they are young and healthy.
Collins still needs to grow. He had a number of highlights, but he needs to be more consistent, especially with his pass protection. Free is 32 and has been slowed some by foot and ankle injuries, but his level of play by the end of the year was much improved.
When the Cowboys picked Green in 2015 it was with the idea he would serve as the swing tackle as a rookie but injury prevented that. He will have the chance to win the job this spring and summer and give the Cowboys a hint at what their future right tackle could look like.
A look out: The Cowboys will likely have to put the second-round tender on Leary, which should be in the $2.5 million range. That’s a lot to play a one-position backup, but he has value and the Cowboys need insurance behind Collins.
Bernadeau has value because of his ability to play guard and center, but if they are going to pay Leary that kind of money it will be difficult to pay Bernadeau a similar amount. Brown could have a chance to come back on a minimum deal, but the Cowboys want Green to be the swing tackle.
If Bernadeau does not re-sign then the Cowboys will have to find a backup center. Martin has taken some snaps in case of emergency situations, but it’s possible he could handle the spot in 2016.
Since 2011 the Cowboys have taken Smith, Frederick and Martin in the first round and Green in the third round. Plus they added a first-round talent in Collins. Can they afford to add another high-value resource to the position? It’s possible but unlikely when you look at how a team has to manage its salary cap.