Dallas Cowboys: McGovern departure paves way for o-line upgrade in NFL Draft

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones is on the record saying that free agency in the NFL is like buying used cars at new-car prices. On the flip side, the NFL Draft is like buying new cars at used-car prices.

And so it goes with free agency in 2023, with some Cowboys fans getting gas pains over the departure of offensive guard Connor McGovern. Indeed, the Buffalo Bills decided to shell out stupid money for an offensive lineman who may not be used as much as he is average.

Sure, the re-signing of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and safety Donovan Wilson has settled the nerves of lots of Cowboys fans, but in terms of acquiring players from outside the organization, the Dallas trade for Stephon Gilmore for a meager fifth-round draft pick made some eyes pop, mine included.

Moving along, the Cowboys appear to be in position to draft not only the best player available at next month’s annual player selection meeting, but they also stand a good chance to actually upgrade the roster where it is now needed most.

The reality is that the Cowboys offensive line started to fizzle with the unexpected departure of franchise center Travis Frederick due to illness following the 2019 regular season. Frequent injuries to left tackle Tyron Smith and the drop-off and subsequent dismissal of right tackle La’el Collins in seasons that followed had Dallas drafting a future left tackle in Tyler Smith in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

If we look at how well the Dallas offense performed with the aforementioned Tyron Smith, Frederick, Collins and right guard Zack Martin during the 2010s, it is crystal clear that the time has come to finish rebuilding an offensive front that might just be one or two players away from being one of the best offensive lines in the league – again.

Martin should still have some good years left, barring injury, as one of the top players at his position. The Cowboys have shown they intend to keep Terence Steele around at right tackle, the three-year veteran being a great example of how to develop a player who was undrafted in 2020. Tyler Smith is but a soon-to-be second year player who should anchor the left tackle position for at least the next decade, and in highly physical fashion.

This leaves left guard and center as positions the Cowboys should be ready to address right away, although center can wait a bit with Tyler Biadasz heading into a contract year in 2023.

So, enter the likes of TCU offensive guard-center Steve Avila and Florida offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence.

Either – or both – of these prospects would complete a rapid renovation of a Cowboys offensive line that needs to get better at pushing opposing defensive lines off the ball. Torrence and Avila both stand in at around at 6’5’’and weigh at least 330 pounds. This is the kind of mass and strength that enables running games to take off. This is what keeps your franchise quarterback out of harms way so he can drive his offense up and down the field.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 05: O’Cyrus Torrence of Florida participates in a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 05, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

If you recall the Cowboys of the early 1990s, you will remember that it took young, powerful linemen like tackle Erik Williams and guard-tackle Larry Allen to start dominating elite defensive linemen like Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Charles Mann and Eric Swann. It took those bullies to neutralize terrorizing edge rushers like Lawrence Taylor, Pat Swilling and Derrick Thomas, who had one sack against the Dallas dynasty in two tries in 1992 and 1995, both wins for Dallas.

You think that stable of Buffalo Bills defensive stars, like Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett lost back-to-back Super Bowls against the Cowboys only because of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin? If the late and great John Madden were still with us, I would bet money that he would immediately point out the presence of guard Nate Newton and center Mark Stepnoski as accomplices who were equally important in winning those championships, if not more.

Today’s Cowboys have been bounced from the playoffs in two straight years by the San Francisco 49ers, and for the same reason each time – the defense wearing red and gold was too fast and too physical for a Dallas offense that lacked a couple ingredients, brute strength up front and a dominant running game. The Cowboys defense was not the issue, but rather an offense that was unable to score points at the rate it was capable of in that particular match-up.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn may have the inside track at having the best defense in the NFL next season, especially when considering the continuity and personnel on that side of the ball.

Bolstering the interior of the offensive line should be the top priority for the Cowboys in 2023, which will pave the way for the running game one way or the other.

McGovern’s departure to Buffalo creates not only a hole, but an opportunity to get younger and better at guard on an offensive line that looks pretty good at tackle moving forward.

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