Cowboys are experiencing the nuclear fallout of ignoring an aging, declining offensive line

A timeline:

2008-2009

With an aging OL in place, the Cowboys had a total of 18 draft picks in 2008 and 2009.  With those 18 picks, they selected one offensive lineman, Robert Brewster.  Brewster is no longer with the team.

2010

In 2010, the Cowboys drafted one offensive lineman, Sam Young, in the 6th round.  Young, like Brewster, is no longer with the team.  They headed into the 2010 season with the oldest offensive line in the NFL.  Leonard Davis celebrated his 32nd birthday just before the start of the season, with Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier celebrating their 32nd birthdays shortly thereafter.  Andre Gurode was 31.  The one player that was still relatively young was the 26 year old Doug Free, who was taking over at LT for the departed Flozell Adams, who was 35.

The Cowboys were the overwhelming favorites to win the NFC East that season, but in what should have been a fairly predictable outcome, the offensive line went into a sharp decline and the the offense sputtered.  It didn’t help that the defense was surprisingly bad.  They finished that season 6-10.

2011

The following offseason, Jerry Jones made the obvious decision to cut bait with Colombo, Davis and Gurode, three players that were playing poorly and making far too much money.  The Cowboys were, in a way, forced into “going young” along their OL.  For the first time in 20+ years as the Cowboys’ GM, Jones spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman, scoring the extremely talented Tyron Smith out of USC.  They would take a couple more offensive linemen in the 4th and 7th rounds, grabbing David Arkin and Bill Nagy, respectively.  They also locked up Free to a long term deal, paying him $32 million over 4 years. It appeared that after years of ignoring the OL, it was finally becoming a priority, albeit way too late.

To begin the season, the Cowboys started two rookies: Nagy at LG, and Tyron Smith at RT. They also plugged in 2nd year player Phil Costa at center.  Kosier was moved from LG over to the right side to be sort of an “offensive tackle whisperer” for Smith.  In one offseason, they went from the oldest offensive line in the league to one of the youngest.

With so many new and unproven players inserted into the lineup, the Cowboys’ offensive line once again sputtered all season, this time even more predictably than in 2010.  Smith had a great rookie year, but the two other new pieces, Costa and Nagy, both had brutal seasons.  Costa’s poor play lasted 16 games, while Nagy’s bad season was cut short in Week 6, when he was lost for the season with a broken ankle.  Kosier’s decline and health issues continued.  Free, meanwhile, was a major disappointment, having a surprisingly bad season.  The Cowboys were learning that turning over a full offensive line in a short amount of time isn’t exactly easy.  They hit with one player, missed with two, and were heading into the 2012 once again needing to scramble to find answers.

Continued after the jump…

2012

We’re one week into free agency so far, and really, the only word I can use to describe the Cowboys’ plan of attack for the OL is “puzzling.”  First, they signed OG Mackenzy Bernadeau, a player that had a couple bad seasons in 2009 and 2010 in Carolina, who then lost his job in 2011.  The cost? 4 years, $11 million.  Bernadeau’s agent said the Cowboys brought him in to be a starting guard, and while agents tend to say positive things about their clients, the size of the contract would indicate that he’s not just full of hot air.  The Cowboys then went out and signed 30 year old Nate Livings, a player that Bengals fans by and large were more than happy to see leave.  The cost for Livings: 5 years, $19 million.  With Livings and Bernadeau in place, the team felt comfortable cutting Kosier.  On the outside, the plan is to flip-flop Smith and Free, with Smith moving from RT to LT, and vice versa.  For now, Costa is penciled in at center, although that could (and should) change sometime between now and the start of the season, be it through the draft or other means.

So what does all of this mean?  It means an almost complete lack of continuity along the Cowboys OL:

Cowboys 2010 2011 2012
LT Doug Free Doug Free Tyron Smith
LG Kyle Kosier Bill Nagy Nate Livings
C Andre Gurode Phil Costa Phil Costa?
RG Leonard Davis Kyle Kosier Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT Marc Colombo Tyron Smith Doug Free

It’s difficult to figure out exactly was the plan is here.

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  6. BigBad Joe says:

    its not just ignoring the O Line for so long, it is the horrible draft of 2009, that they are still paying for. If it was “just” the O Line, they could focus more on it and get it right in a couple of years, but that draft is the reason that there are alot of holes that need fixing.

    I hope they get DeCastro in the first, that would go a long way to making me feel better about the line

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  8. DerfDiggy says:

    I think they have a plan…and its changed from last year. I think they were going all in with the youth movement, Callahan came in and realized that the youngsters just weren’t that good, and he sees something in livings and Bern that he can mold. I’m just happy they’re making moves…as it shows they’re willing to change things on the fly.

  9. […] morning, I wrote about the fallout of the Cowboys basically ignoring their offensive line for so many years while their linemen (since replaced) continued to age and decline.  And then […]

  10. Free Plax says:

    For years I have never understood, why all the guys on my TV keep telling me how talented Dallas is. The Offensive line has been in decline since 2007 and not mentioned in the article was that the 2010 Dallas’s O-line got their starting QB knocked out for most of the season.
    Dallas defense has been so overated for years, I mean other than D Ware, a pretty good NT who is small for the position they have a bunch of JAGs (I forgot Sean Lee is pretty good) and whenever they are in a big spot the D folds up and cost’s them the game.

    Dallas has a ton of holes to fill all over the team, they are not that talented except for the skill positions excluding RB. Felix Jones is a bum, and the rookie flashed but let’s see him acutally run for a 1000 yards before we proclaim their RB situation solved.

    Any way just my opion.

  11. Anders says:

    Jimmy will you do like last year and show the avg. age for every NFL line? I would think the Eagles is in the older end right now (but should still be very productive for 3-4 years)

    1. Yeah, that’s my best post every year. I’ll publish that one a week or two before the season begins. That one takes at least 20 hours to do every year.

      And yeah, Eagles will easily be in the older half, maybe even top 7-8.

      1. Anders says:

        I really like your stuff on this site and know you put alot of effort into some of things you post, but could you maybe do a similar thing with the whole roster but just for the NFCE teams?

        1. I did that last year too, and will do it again. Hang on, let me find it.

          1. Anders says:

            yea, I cant even understand why I forgot that one 🙂

  12. Keith Bowker says:

    I think both signings were a bit questionable (Livings due to age and Bernadeau more on performance) but it can still be viewed as an upgrade from last year. Kosier is an adequate backup at his age as is Nagy unless he gets considerably stronger in the offseason. I still think they add a guard or center in the draft and then will let the competition begin. Costa, Nagy, Arkin and a draft pick will all have a fair shot at the starting center position and if they don’t feel comfortable a veteran will be signed (Dan Koppen or Eugene Amato?). DeCastro still make a lot of sense in that he can start day one but they can now draft the best available player and look for a guy that can develop in the later rounds. At least you will now have options and an open competition to play the best guy and having Callahan on board to coach them up will also be a plus. I still have heavy concers with the swing tackle position and the fact the Cowboys are counting on Jeremy Parnell to fill a spot should Free or Smith get injured.

  13. Immynimmy says:

    “For the first time in 20+ years as the Cowboys’ GM, Jones spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman”

    Seriously? No way is that possibly true…

      1. Immynimmy says:

        Hmm, you’re actually off. It was 30 years. 1981 was the last time they drafted an offensive lineman in the 1st round in 1981. WOW.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dallas_Cowboys_first-round_draft_picks

  14. yehti says:

    i get what your saying Jimmy but lets look at guarenteed money and not full contracts. you know like how you do when its a Eagle player and not a Cowboy player.

    I think Callahan saw something that can ne fixed with Livings. i think OCC had a article up on BTB about him, really good piece from a Bengals scout.

    1. I didn’t criticize the amount of money they paid Livings and Bernadeau (at least not in this article). I merely noted it to illustrate that the Cowboys see those guys as starters, not backups.

  15. Imp says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cowboys end up with one of the better offensive tackle duos in the league. Tyron Smith had a good rookie year and Free’s 2011 season was probably more of a fluke than anything else. Swapping sides should work out for the both of them.

    Now Cowboy’s interior line? That is a complete mess. If Romo gets hurt again, it is because of defensive tackles and linebackers knocking the crap out of him through the middle.

  16. rage114 says:

    I don’t follow the Cowboys closely enough to know exactly what Free struggled with last year.

    Did he look like a RT playing out of position?

    1. He played LT in 2010, and was easily the best offensive lineman on the team that year. Heading into 2011, it was the one spot on the Cowboys OL that I think most people (myself included) felt they’d be OK. And then he just played like crap. I don’t know why, really. It could have been that they moved Kosier away from him (from LG to RG). Others have suggested he was banged up. I don’t really know. But his play definitely fell off.

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