Since 2014, the Cowboys have had an offensive line that was the envy of many across the league with Tyron Smith, Frederick and Zack Martin -- all first-round draft picks. They added La'el Collins, a first-round talent, in 2015 as an undrafted free agent.
In 2011, the Cowboys used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman for the first time since 1981 on Smith, and he has been a Pro Bowl selection every season since 2013.
In 2013, the Cowboys were ridiculed for trading back in the first round and selecting Frederick with the No. 31 overall pick. Frederick was a Day 1 starter and was named to the Pro Bowl in all but one of the six seasons he played.
In 2014, the Cowboys took Martin with the No. 16 overall pick, and he has been one of the game's best guards, earning first- or second-team All-Pro honors each year and being named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons.
The idea was Smith, Frederick and Martin would grow old playing together on the field. In 2014, Smith signed an eight-year extension through 2023. In 2016, Frederick signed a six-year extension through 2024. In 2018, Martin signed a six-year extension through 2024.
The trio was supposed to be like the Cowboys' great line of the 1990s with Nate Newton, Mark Tuinei, Mark Stepnoski and Erik Williams that opened holes for running back Emmitt Smith and protected quarterback Troy Aikman for three Super Bowls.
Since 1970, Martin, Frederick and Smith make up the only offensive line trio to make five (or more) Pro Bowls together, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Last week, Frederick turned 29. Martin turns 30 in November. Smith turns 30 in December.
As they each approach what should be the prime of their careers, one of the pillars is walking away.
In his announcement, Frederick cited the battle he had in 2018 with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system. One of the best NFL centers in the world, Frederick had difficulty walking as his muscles atrophied in 2018. He spent months working back, regaining strength, not just measured in pounds but in accomplishing mundane tasks.
Numerous times Frederick said his goal was not just to return to the field but to continue to be one of the best in the league at his position. While he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2019 (for the fifth time), he felt he did not play up to his personal standard, which he says played a part in his decision to retire.
Smith has missed games in each of the past four seasons because of a number of injuries, including a chronic back injury. Martin has missed two games in his career (both in 2018), but he was slowed by back, elbow and ankle injuries. Martin had offseason surgery on an ankle and skipped the Pro Bowl this past season.
The Cowboys will miss Frederick, but the nature of the NFL is that the game goes on. Center Joe Looney played well in replacing Frederick in 2018 and re-signed with the team last week. Connor McGovern, Adam Redmond and perhaps Connor Williams could be in the mix. Quarterback Dak Prescott will have to get used to the change as well -- in the three seasons Prescott and Frederick played together, the quarterback played 3,016 offensive snaps -- all of them were with Frederick at center.
Any of them could do fine in filling in for Frederick, and the Cowboys still can be a playoff team in coach Mike McCarthy's first season. At the NFL scouting combine, McCarthy noted his Green Bay Packers needed more than 70 players because of injuries to win Super Bowl XLV in 2010.
But this shake-up of the offensive line was not in the long-term plan when the Cowboys signed Frederick to the extension two years after Smith and two years before Martin.
They were supposed to grow older together, claiming Super Bowls like the lines of the 1990s. Things quickly change.