The Cowboys have a swing problem. Considering Tyron Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2015, swing tackle is a vital position in Dallas. Additionally, the Cowboys haven’t had a player start every game since 2018.
In previous years, the Cowboys have looked to experienced veterans like Ty Nseh, Cameron Fleming and Cameron Erving to fill that role. This year, they chose a battle between last year’s starter Josh Ball and this year’s starter Matt Waltko. Well, Waltzko was hurt and Ball struggled mightily, moving forward in Saturday’s preseason game.
Ball may now be the Cowboys’ default swing method, but nobody has done anything to make anyone feel better about that. What Dallas needs right now are options, and we’ve got some. Here are six offensive tackles who are free agents who will provide legitimate competition for Ball.
Tie it up
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. T Nsehke was in the team last year so he obviously knows the coaching staff and players well enough. He has been in the league since 2009 and has a lot of experience.
The bottom line is Nesehke was with the team last year and they chose not to bring him back. And when Lael Collins was suspended last year, it was Terrence Steele who got the nod, not Peshke. It’s clear Dallas doesn’t think highly of Nsehke, but bringing back a face known for fighting hard off the ball could make a lot of sense.
It wasn’t too long ago that Nate Solder was considered one of the best left tackles in the NFL. He spent seven seasons guarding Tom Brady’s blindside with the Patriots, winning two Super Bowls in the process and playing well enough to be named to the franchise’s All-Dynasty team.
Entering free agency after the 2017 season, he became one of many to receive an unadvised sack from Giants general manager Dave Gettleman as the highest-paid offensive lineman at the time. Almost everything the Giants did under Gettleman’s tenure, it didn’t work and Solder was cut after this past year.
It’s fair to wonder how much the 34-year-old tackle has left in the tank, but his resume more than speaks for itself. Solder was a highly skilled left fielder who was part of a winning tradition and had experience playing both left and right. Bringing it to trial is worth doing at the very least.
Let’s stick with former veterans for a moment and highlight Marcus Cannon. This represents a homecoming for Cannon as he was born and raised in Odessa, Texas and played his college ball for TCU. He was a very productive college player but fell to the fifth round when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the time of enrollment.
Cannon has an inspiring story of overcoming his cancer diagnosis and then going on to a great career in New England. After starting swings for the Patriots, Cannon eventually became their starting right tackle and was named second-team All-Pro in 2016.
Cannon spent last year with the Texans after being traded to New England in a capital-saving move, and Houston released him for the same reason. Gunner played just four games for Texas before an injury ended his season, but he was strong in limited action. Not only does Cannon provide real competition for Ball, he also represents insurance if Steele isn’t ready to be the first right tackle.
It’s not often that the first overall pick in the draft is available in mid-August, but that’s where Eric Fisher is right now. In the year Taken by the Chiefs in 2013, Fisher never lived up to his draft status but was always a solid tackle for them. He played right tackle his rookie year before moving to left tackle the following year.
Fisher tore his Achilles in the 2020 AFC Championship Game, a capital-saving move before retiring for the season. He signed a one-year deal with the Colts last year and played well enough, even though most of the team’s offensive linemen struggled to adjust to his extended time on the ball.
Indianapolis did not re-sign Fisher, and his performance last year seemed to scare teams away from considering him a starter. But in Dallas, Fisher represents excellent value given his experience and pedigree.
If the Cowboys are serious about bringing it to the ball game, Brian Bulaga needs to call yesterday. Bulaga has 12 years of experience in the NFL, 10 of which come with the Green Bay Packers. In particular, Mike McCarthy was the head coach for nine of those years with the Packers; Bulaga left the team after his first season under new head coach Matt Lafleur.
Bulaga has spent the past two years with the Chargers despite injuries in both seasons. In all, Bulaga played 11 games in Los Angeles this season before being released. Health has been an issue for the veteran of late, but he was considered a starter in all those situations.
In Dallas, Bulaga will be reunited with McCarthy and Joe Philbin, the Packers’ offensive coordinators, during his draft. Heath is an obvious question mark, but Bulaga has the skill, experience and a level of familiarity with a blocking style that few others have.
Just a few years ago, it looked like the Cowboys and Eagles could both legitimately argue that they had the best left tackle in the game. Tyron Smith is still a beast, but his constant injuries have tarnished his reputation throughout the league. Meanwhile, Jason Peters saw a significant drop in performance in Philadelphia after briefly moving to guard them.
After the Eagles officially moved on from Peters after the 2020 season, the veteran left tackle joined the Bears in mid-August of last year and immediately became their starting left tackle. Despite turning 40 at the end of the year, Peters had a very solid year and was easily Chicago’s best linebacker. With a new coaching staff and a youth movement on the offensive line, the Bears opted not to bring Peters back, but he had nothing to do with the game.
Peters has indicated that he wants to play in 2022 and will stay in good shape while he waits for the opportunity. Whether he’ll directly compete for the position he’s called for in his 12 years playing for the Cowboys is another question, but there’s no doubt Peters has a lot of value guaranteed to make two starts this year.