Chicken or Egg: Offensive or Defensive Line?

Any surprise that the 1st-round
pick is the best player on the line?

While we debate whether Dallas should draft an offensive or defensive lineman high, a look at what the final four have done to build their offensive lines:

New England
LT — Nate Solder, 1st round pick
LG — Logan Mankins, 1st round pick
C – Ryan Wendell, UFA
RG — Dan Connolly, UFA
RT — Sebastian Vollmer, 2nd round pick

LT — Bryant McKinnie — 1st round pick for Minnesota
LG — Kelechi Osemele — 2nd round pick
C — Matt Birk — 6th round pick for Minnesota
RG — Marshall Yanda, 3rd round pick
RT — Michael Oher, 1st round pick

San Francisco
LT — Joe Staley, 1st round pick
LG — Mike Iupati, 1st round pick
C — Jonathan Goodwin, 5th round pick for Jets
RG — Alex Boone, UFA
RT — Anthony Davis, 1st round pick

LT — Sam Baker, 1st round pick
LG — Justin Blalock, 2nd round pick
C — Todd McClure, 7th round pick
RG — Peter Konz, 2nd round pick
RT — Tyson Clabo, UFA

All of the finalists have invested heavily in their offensive lines.  All of them have had some luck on late-round selections and on un-drafted free agents, but the fact remains that at least three starters on each of these teams were high round picks by the home team.

Compare this to the projected starters on the current Cowboys line:
LT — Tyron Smith, 1st round pick
LG — Nate Livings, UFA
C — Phil Costa, UFA
RG — Mackenzy Bernadeau, 7th round pick
RT — Doug Free, 4th round pick/Jermey Parnell, UFA

Now, compare it to the last above-average Cowboys line, the ’07 edition, which had a strong pedigree:
LT — Flozell Adams, 2nd round pick
LG — Kyle Kosier, 7th round pick for 49ers
C — Andre Gurode, 2nd round pick
RG — Leonard Davis, 1st round pick for Cardinals
RT — Marc Colombo, 1st round pick for Bears

You get what you pay for, and as we well know, the Cowboys have not been willing to pay for top round offensive linemen.   They can convince themselves that they don’t need to do it, and lean on Bill Callahan one more year, but he likely knows what Hudson Houck learned in ’09, ’10 and ’11, once that ’07 bunch got old together.  There’s no substitute for talent.

Sooner or later, you need to stop fooling yourself and make the investment.  It does not have to be in the first round, but it needs to be in the high rounds and in multiples of more than one.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • MadMick

    RV, you make pitch perfect points about how far ahead of the
    defense offenses are in the contemporary NFL landscape. And one more thing about those ‘90s Cowboys, they were certainly capable of scoring when they absolutely had to in the postseason besides just breaking the 28-point barrier.

    Look no further than the ’96 NFC Title Game where the offense, because of a perfect blend of power running and 9-for-9 passing by Aikman, ended up winning a game that had seen Favre put up 27 through three quarters. It was a game they led 14-3 early and 24-17 at halftime; however, all in all the Packers had
    outscored them 24-10 after a quick Cowboys start to be up 27-24 entering the 4th.

    When’s the last time these Cowboys showed they were mentally
    tough enough or possessed the resolve to come back and win a crucial game they’d blown a sizable lead in and totally relinquished control of? That Eagles Monday Nighter way back in ’08? That was a long time ago.

    Back to the whole short sighted defensive front seven (or that elusive game-changing versatile safety like Earl Thomas)
    over OL beef mentality, the notion that all it will take are solid DL and S additions to make this defense good enough to carry the team to Division Titles and more is about as wrong-headed as it gets. I don’t care how much they do personnel-wise to push the defense over the top; as long as the offense continues to do next to nothing for entire halves because of both incompetent
    linemen and unimaginative gameplans, the team will hover in 8-8 mediocrity if not backsliding down into 6-10 or 5-11 quicksand sooner than later.

    There’s too many other new style versatile QB’s out there to
    deal with and keep up with on the scoreboard that you can continue treating Romo like he’s spayshull enough of a snowflake to perform a magic act capable of hiding the warts of the patchwork slobs up front. How’s that philosophy worked
    out since the team’s last trip to the playoffs?

    Honestly, I think Romo’s close to being done psychologically. Screw Romodini Romomanticizing crap; put together a real
    O-line with Dez finally blossoming into a top five receiver and Murray himself not looking to be a player who’s going to give you more than four to five years of hard workhorse running. What good is a 3rd round steal running back if he can never be effective due to having blockers pushed back into him?
    Blow MF’ers off the ball like ‘Bama did to Notre Dame. Did everybody see how easy that looked? Why wouldn’t you want that?

    Big picture though; with Romo turning 34 next offeason, you simply can’t afford to halfass giving him the proper pieces to work with; UP FRONT. And if you do ignore this unit yet again, you better be willing to put all the blame on him next offseason and move on because simple math and business say
    that if a 34-year old guy hasn’t been part of a team that’s won more than a single playoff game entering his 9th season on the job, it’s time to move on to the next guy that will give ideally you 8-10 years with a chance rather than banking on the golden ticket of Romo magically winning it all in his last 2-3 seasons. I mean how many more Russell Wilsons and Colin Kaepernicks does it take before idiots with their old hat way of thinking about
    QB’s finally have the light bulbs go off for them?

    Now I’m not enamored with any QB this year because quite
    frankly some of them just seem like more of the same of assembly line factory models that have busted in the past. With both Boyd and Murray saying, two of the more intriguing prospects will actually be in next year’s draft.

    But the scared notion of having to stick with Romo forever
    because you remember the black hole of QB’ing morass of mediocrity between he and Aikman is no way to run a franchise built for long-term success.

    Blame the O-line all you want; but whether you get it fixed
    or not, time is no longer on Romo’s side. You damn well better be making a hard run in the next two years. This gray area between rebuilding and taking advantage of a window that isn’t actually open (4 playoff no-shows in 5 seasons says the window hasn’t been open) is just too maddening for all us die-hards. We
    deserve better.

    • MadMick

      With both Boyd and Murray STAYING.

  • Draft mane

    I would like Sheldon Richardson or Kawann Short or both in the middle WoW,this would make RG3 bowels move!

  • jerrys point

    All those teams you listed had good QB”s, I mean we blame Jerry,T.O.,Dez ,The O line,The Coach ,but hey who in the hell is throwing these game changing INTS,did we forget!

  • daledoe

    If things don’t work out when it’s all said and done JJ will fire the coach and we’ll be starting from scratch again. History shows that that doesn’t work but there has to be a scapegoat.

  • Natedawg

    Also none of the final 4 have a UDFA at Quarterback and save for NE hitting the 100 million dollar powerball lotto with Brady. They all have invested significantly more at the games most important position (QB) than we have.

    • daledoe

      Put a line in front of Romo and he’ll take us to the promised land too. On the int in the Redskin game he had a man in his face before he could take a breath. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Peyton’s int Sunday.

  • Lee1936

    BPA is all-important, especially in Rd1. In 2011, Dallas took ROT Tyron Smith with pick 1/9. Most of us are satisfied with that pick. But we certainly could have done better. With pick 1-11, Houston got all-universe DE JJ Watt ( Does need trump talent? It does in Dallas.

    • Lee1936

      I’d rather have a great player than a good one.

  • Lee1936

    Like last year, this is a good year for finding decent Gs in Rds3-4. And like last year, you have one C rated very high, Barrett Jones. Due to his lisfranc injury with a couple of torn ligaments, I think he’ll be available at our pick in Rd2.
    Last year’s top-rated C, Peter Konz, pick 2/55, started at G for the Falcons. Last year’s top-rated G, David DeCastro, pick 1/24, started at G for the Steelers. Both were picked later than most of us expected.

  • Emmitt>Barry

    Agree that those OL breakdowns you lay out show that those top teams have invested heavily in their lines, but they also show that the higher investments are focused on the outside. On average, the picture you lay out here shows a much cheaper cost inside than outside, with center being the cheapest position. So that’s something to be aware of.

    Overall I agree we need to invest in our OL, but in the last 2 years, Jerry has:
    -Spent major dollars last offseason to fortify both guard spots
    -Gave a big deal to a promising veteran OT (Free)
    -Drafted another OT in the first round (Tyron)

    Sure there’s been a low number of first day draft picks used on OL, but the bigger issue seems to be a bad job of evaluating OL talent when we have invested in it recently, with the exception of the consensus first-round talent in Tyron Smith.

  • Cowboyny

    When I study the playoff team’s OL draft history, each line has 3 high level draft picks, the Cowboys have just 1. This is not acceptable. I remember the team always seemed to take a Offensive lineman in the 2nd rd each year: Adams, Page, Johnson, Rodgers. Did the USC bust change their thinking? Same goes for Roy Williams at the Safety position. Point is, even if a former draftee didn’t pan out, it doesn’t mean you stop trying! If the team fails to take an offensive lineman again this season, we can all expect the same results.

  • fivetwos

    Come on Raf. You know Jerry and his draft crew are smarter than everyone else.

    High fives all over after the Arkin steal.

    Last year’s post draft PC included a whole lot of boasting about signing UDFA Ron Leary.

    High picks on OL? Pfffft. What for? Our OL coach was once a HC in a Super Bowl.

    Add in how super strength man Woicik is going to turn these types into killers (a pipe dream that was notably rampant a year ago, yet now absent from spaces like these), and away we go.

    Coaches can push talent to the next level, but it can’t turn garbage into a serviceable starter you can win with.

    Do they now get that in Dallas? Don’t anyone go getting your hopes up.

    • Lee1936

      52s, I agree absolutely on every point.

  • Lee1936

    Not coaches, not schemes (at least, not often) but TALENT. Very unfortunate for DC fans, because Jerry (in his 24th year as GM) is still trying to figure out how to judge talent.

    • truecowboyfan

      I think you underestimate the importance of good coaching. A good coach will get the most out of the talent that is available to him and will adjust his scheme accordingly to maximize his teams chances of winning. Its the reason a guy like Bill Belichick rarely hits the open market, the reason a guy like Sean Payton just hit it rich on a multi-million dollar (I’m assuming) contract extension.

      IMO, A good coach can turn good talent in to a great team. A bad coach can do the opposite.

      • Lee1936

        I do want the best coaches in Dallas, because they can make a difference. Parcells was a great coach, but made little difference in Dallas’ W-L. Why? Phillips’ record in Dallas was lackluster, but as soon as he got to Houston, he instantly became a great coach again. Why?

        Belichick flopped in Cleveland, but got smart in NE. A big reason he has been so successful there, is that he usually manages to have two picks in Rd1. This trick has given him the extra TALENT needed to keep NE among the elite. Another reason is, he hit the jackpot in Rd6 with Tom Brady.

        • Pepe

          Truth. Belichick was 41-57 before Brady became the full time starter.

          • Lee1936

            Thanks, that must include his W-L prior to being HC at NE?

          • Pepe

            Yes. He was 5-11 his first season at NE and 0-3 in Bledsoes starts in year two. Bledsoe got hurt in game 3 and Brady finished the game.

        • truecowboyfan

          Parcells: I see what you are saying about the W-L record. To some extent, he was probably held back a little by a lack of a good QB. But he established a wonderful foundation that probably should have resulted in more success from 2007 – 2009.

          Phillips: The man has proven to be a great defensive coordinator and a poor head coach. So I’m not sure what your point is.

          Belichick: He took over in 2000 and won his first title in 2001, without the benefit of multiple 1st round picks. In fact, I believe most of their superbowl wins came before they started acquiring all of those high draft picks that you are referring to.

          • Lee1936

            My point is that the work environment at Valley Ranch is so warped by GM Jerry’s micromanaging and botched decisions on personnel, that no coach can function properly, and the talent level can’t rise above average.

          • truecowboyfan

            I see where you are coming from. There’s no doubt that Jerry is the ultimate problem in Big D.

          • Lee1936

            Agreed, that Parcells’ QBs were average or below. His contribution was to transition the DC from the Dave Campo, “salary cap hell” era of 5-ll seasons, to 8.5-7.5, half a game ahead of Garrett’s record so far.

          • MontecitoTex

            The Tuna intentionally passed on Aaron Rogers for Marcus Spears in order to keep his Giants ahead of Tuna’s hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. “Hey Jerrah’, Bledsoe is the answer, screw Rogers… and say no to Demarcus Ware too.”

          • daledoe

            The only coach I ever saw that woulod try to protect a 1 point lead in the first quarter.

          • MadMick

            Don’t forget the Cowboys having no interest in that other Drew during ’06 free agency because they were set at QB. Of course, that creates the ultimate paradox since Romo (via a modest trade) would’ve ended up being Payton’s guy for that Saints in that scenario.

            Hindsight is 20/20 on Rodgers. He was considered even more of a generic prospect than Brady “god almighty he sucks” Quinn was in his respective draft and being a Tedford prospect was considered a major stigma at the time. So Tuna and Jerral weren’t the only ones who dismissed Rodgers as a bland low ceiling pro prospect.

          • MadMick

            For that Saints TEAM in that scenario.

          • MontecitoTex

            Tex will take 5-11 over 8-8 every year. Less heartache, change, and a better draft pick.

          • Lee1936

            Tex, it just seems to me that “better” is better than “worse.”
            But I understand that you believe that worse is better than better, and that better is worse than worse.

        • MontecitoTex

          WTF! Mrs. Doubtfire was a mole that set the Cowboys franchise back a decade. His acts of treason produced 2 Super Bowl wins for the Giants. He talked Jerry out of addressing the most important position in all of sports during a time of need for the likes of Testaverde and Bledsoe – instead, implanting RoMole to kill the franchise for the foreseeable future. When the Cowboys went 13-3, he raided Valley Ranch, against league rules, taking Sparano and a half dozen employees who weren’t qualified, during the bye week, helping the NY Giants win a playoff game underhandedly. The best thing about Kiffin is that he helps undo another Tuna implant, the beleaguered 3-4 defense. Parcells is the biggest stain in the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise.

          • Lee1936

            Wrong, Tex. Even if you were right about Parcells’ loyalties (which I doubt) GM Jerry has done FAR MORE to undermine the Dallas Cowboys, only starting with his firing Jimmy Johnson.

          • daledoe

            I was never a big Parcells fan either. He played not to lose rather than to win.
            The only thing that made me happy with the hire was that I believed that Jerry was finally turning over the reigns to a football guy.
            Too bad that it didn’t work out.

        • daledoe

          Parcells had retread QBs in Dallas. His best season if I’m not mistaken was with Quincy Carter at QB.

          Phillips was not a good coach in Dallas because Jerry undercut his authority. When a player or assistant coach can go around the coach to the owner it creates big discipline problems.

  • 77

    oh, and I would go o line as the higher priority; the more clock our offense can chew up the less exposed a unit learning a new system will be.

  • 77

    How much will Vollmer get in Free Agency? With some restructuring of contracts and by not signing Spencer, could we possibly pluck a RT off another top line and focus on the interior? Also, I might have posted this in another thread, but is there any chance the signing of Brian Price, drafted two years ago in the high second to be a gap splitting DT in a 4-3, meant we were already leaning towards the philosophy switch? Can this kid contribute?

  • Taylor

    I’d be happy with all big guys and safeties. I have no confidence that Jerry will draft either.

  • este

    They invests in new CB’s which they should, but don’t make OL a priority. The OL has an impact good or bad on every offensive snap.

  • Ware94

    I agree that you get what you pay for. I wouldn’t be opposed to Dallas drafting OL in round 1. However, I doubt they will. I think you will see a DL drafted in round 1 by Dallas. I think the team believes (right or wrong) that Costa can be a good OC. He will be back. One of the Dallas scouts said a few weeks ago that Parnell would/could start for over half the teams in the league. If they really believe that then pencil him in at RT. The team obviously spent some cash last summer on 2 OG’s. They must have felt like they could play to spend the cash on them. I think (and I could be wrong) that the team is not as down on the OL as the fans are. I think you will see Dallas draft OL but it won’t be in the first round.

    • truecowboyfan

      Interesting theories on management’s thought process. I hope they realize that both OGs played poorly last year, and that Livings will be 31 next year. Its time to stop the bleeding and with two top OG prospects this year, the stars are aligning perfectly for the Boys.

  • RooferDan

    Didn’t we draft Sam Baker in the 2nd round out of USC?

    • BlueStarDude

      Thinking of Jacob Rogers maybe? One of Jerry’s beloved injury-risk second rounders.

      • Taylor

        Rogers was a Parcells pick. Left tackle at USC, injured shoulder, projected to the right side. Never played a down in the NFL. Parcells was abysmal at drafting offensive linemen.

  • este

    Another thing those teams have in common is are competent GM’s.

  • fiverings37

    plus 1 million.

  • Layne Wallace

    Hopefully there will be opportunities to improve this OL in the draft and FA this year. Usual caveats apply, no reaching, no overspending, etc.

  • scottmaui

    Right now Warmack is definitely my favorite for our first round pick. He would be an immediate upgrade for our line.

    Two questions…

    1) Will he last to 18? Some folks even have him graded in the top 5 overall. Gs will drop so he probably won’t go higher than 10 to Tennessee, but a lot of mocks currently have him going between 10 an 17.

    2) If he falls to us, will Jerry/Garrett draft a interior olineman in the first round? We have not since long before he even bought the team. But he broke his tendencies with Tyron two years ago, maybe this year it is time for a G.

    If Warmack is there, he would represent great value and I think do wonders for our offense.

    Even Cooper seems to be a very good player who could come in and help us right away, who will most likely be there at 18, but that’s sort of the start of his window, whereas it’s the end of Warmack’s window, so he doesn’t represent the same kind of value there, but by all accounts he’s still a very good player who could come in a help right away. He’s just more of a zone blocking, pulling style lineman and also might not fit our scheme as well.

    • truecowboyfan

      Great observations. I’m most worried about #2, since I would be happy with either Warmack or Cooper.

    • Ridgelake

      IF you recall, DeCastro was top 5 rated last year too. He fell into the 20s when Pittsburgh got him.
      Similarly, Iupati was rated very high on Dallas’ board 3 years ago, along with Pouncey, Earl Thomas, and Dez. Dez was the last of those 4 available. Iupati went 18 to SF (and was named all-pro this year).
      It seems that Warnack physically is more similar to Iupati. But who knows if Dallas has a similar grade on him. I’d be very happy with him at 18. But I have a feeling we’ll see a DL at 18, especially if Spencer is not retained.

  • jarhead

    Jerry’s approach to this off season and draft will tell us alot about whether he grasps this or not. This must be an inside-out offseason.

  • truecowboyfan

    Its so ironic how Jerry preaches being Romo-friendly, yet sticks him behind a bargain basement OL. If the Cowboys want to fix their OL fast, I think they have no alternative but to invest their 1st, and possibly their 2nd or 3rd round picks this year, on OL.

    • To add to your point — didn’t he learn anything from his Super Bowl lines? Larry Allen a 2nd, Stepnoski and Erik Williams, 3rd rounders. Ray Donaldson a former 1st rounder for the Colts. It’s true that Tuinei and Newton were surprises, but they were acquired in the Landry era.

      And the guy played guard in college. That’s what really baffles me about his out and out lust for bling-position players like WRs.

      • truecowboyfan

        Actually, I’ve always believed that the team of the 90’s has given him a false sense of reality when developing the OL. Add 2 UFAS and a late round pick (Gogan) to Step and Williams and you have yourself the most dominant line in football. In other words, he doesn’t see the high picks invested in Step and Williams, he only sees the bargains that were had with Tuinei, Newton and Gogan.

        Also of note is the fact that he never invested a 1st round pick on OL in the 90’s, yet they still had a dominant line. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this trend continued until 2011, because he thought he could snap up UFAs or easily turn second round picks in to Hall of Famers (Allen).

        To quote a line from ‘Titanic’, everything that he knows (about building an OL), is wrong.

        • He’s a fool if he didn’t see them. Jimmy was trying mad in his first drafts to pick a 1st round OT for his line. It didn’t line up.

          • truecowboyfan

            He wanted one of those Tennessee OTs, right? In any case, I think its safe to say that Jerry IS a fool when it comes to running a football team.

          • Right, Charles McCrae or Antone Davis.

      • Jon B.

        Galloway, Roy Williams, Antonio Bryant………….The Roy and Bryant picks MULTIPLE.could still be starting talent along the OLINE.

        Jerry played O LINE but like anybody that ever lined up as a guard or tackle………….he aspired to be a RB, QB or WR. Maybe that is why he drafts the way he does.

        Visions of McCarron’s girlfriend are dancing in his head.

      • Taylor

        Tuinei was a defensive tackle before changing sides.

      • daledoe

        Landry knew how to coach up players too. He had so many of his linemen cross trained.

    • scottmaui


      Real Romo-friendly means an oline that can run block and pass protect consistently… something we have not had in several years now