Nov 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Zack Martin (70) blocks at the line of scrimmage against Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Shakir Soto (52) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Could the Dallas Cowboys Go Offensive Line in Round 1?

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Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (73) center Travis Frederick (72) guard Ronald Leary (65) and tackle Tyron Smith (77) in the huddle during the game against the St. Louis Rams at AT&T Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys beat the St. Louis Rams 31-7.Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the abounding needs along the Defensive Line the Cowboys still have some significant questions on the Offensive Line. Do they need a new RT to replace Doug Free? Do they need a new guard or two to upgrade and replace the less than spectacular incumbents? Are those needs great enough to constitute use of their 1st round pick?

Obviously the Cowboys are highly invested in LT Tyron Smith (expect a contract extension before the season) and last year’s first round pick, center Travis Frederick (quickly established himself as one of the best in the league). Those two players are cornerstones of the franchise and are here to stay. But RT, LG, and RG are a different story.

Offensive Guard

It’s no secret the Cowboys have been underachieving at OG with Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau manning the starting spots. They have been inconsistent with blitz pickups up the middle (which happens to be Tony Romo’s Achilles Heel) and all too often they have been physically dominated at the point of attack.

For more on these players check out:

A Quick Look at the Dallas Cowboys’ Offensive Line: Ronald Leary

A Quick Look at the Dallas Cowboys’ Offensive Line: Mackenzy Bernadeau

Nov 28, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) is helped up by tackle Doug Free (68) after a roughing the passer penalty against the Oakland Raiders during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Right Tackle

Doug Free has been the man occupying the right tackle spot for the past few seasons in Dallas. Over the years it has been what seems like a Tale of Two Dougs. At times (2010 season in particular) he has played like one of the best tackles in the game.

But once the contract was signed Doug turned into a different player.

Effort, technique, and ability all slipped substantially in 2011 and 2012. His play slipped to one of the worst in the league (worse than most teams’ backups in fact). Doug took a paycut and stepped up his play in 2013. He’s under a guaranteed contact in 2014 but beyond that his departure is likely.

Check out, 2014 Likely the Last Season for Dallas Cowboy Doug Free, for a full explanation on Free.

The Draft

The Cowboys could upgrade any one of the three positions profiled here (RT, LG, RG). An early pick would provide an automatic upgrade. A guard in any of the top 3 rounds could slide right into Mackenzy Bernadaeu’s spot and be considered an improvement.

Over the past few years, offensive linemen have been gaining value in the NFL draft. Bust rates are low and production is high. Offensive linemen often offer a safe pick. Currently the first round appears loaded with offensive tackles at multiple tiers (Top 10, mid first rounders, fringe 1st/2nd rounders). Offensive guards are another story as only a couple project as possible late first rounders. The Cowboys could very easily take one of the top guards with their second round pick and gain an immediate roster starter and major upgrade. After all, isn’t that what we’re all looking for in a second round draft pick? A starter and an upgrade?

Guards run thin a little in the third round but pick up again in later rounds.  The Cowboys indicated they would use the top 2 picks on D-Line and then address other positions later. Unfortunately there aren’t many O-linemen slotted to be there in the 3rd. If the Cowboys are committed to upgrading at guard, they may have to use a 2nd rounder to get one or else wait until later rounds to take a flyer. The guard class is deep so the Cowboys could find some bargains late.

As stated earlier, this is probably Doug Free’s last season in Dallas meaning the Cowboys would be wise to proactively find his replacement. They could address that in the top round without much difficulty but would probably need to groom whoever they select behind Free for the first year. Free isn’t an all-star but he’s better than most unproven rookies (for just the first year). I’m not sure picking a guy for the bench is a very good idea even if it is a good long-term move.

So it seems unlikely the Cowboys would draft an offensive tackle just to sit on the bench for the first year. With Free’s contract guaranteed for 2014, it’s also unlikely the Cowboys will cut Doug. If the Cowboys go with a first round tackle they will be looking for one with enough versatility to play guard in 2014 before transitioning to tackle when Free departs in 2015.

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Sport DFW on twitter @TheRealSportDFW Check out more of Reid’s articles here: http://sportdfw.com/author/reidhanson/

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Dallas Cowboys Doug Free Mackenzy Bernadeau

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