The Cowboys need more options at swing tackle.
The Cowboys have a swing tackle problem. The swing tackle is, of course, an especially important position in Dallas considering that Tyron Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2015. Furthermore, the Cowboys haven’t had one player start every game at right tackle in a season since 2018.
In previous years, the Cowboys have sought out veteran tackles with experience to fill that role, such as Ty Nsehke, Cameron Fleming, and Cameron Erving. This year, they opted for a battle between last year’s rookie Josh Ball and this year’s rookie Matt Waletzko. Well, Waletzko has been injured and Ball has struggled mightily, with it coming to a head in Saturday’s preseason game.
Ball might be the Cowboys’ swing tackle right now by default, but he’s done nothing to make anyone feel good about that. What Dallas needs right now is options, and we’ve got some. Here are six offensive tackles who are free agents right now that would offer legitimate competition for Ball.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Ty Nsehke was on the team last year, so he obviously knows the coaching staff and players well enough. He’s been in the league since 2009, giving him tons of experience as well.
The flip side is that Nsehke was with the team last year and they opted not to bring him back. And when La’el Collins got suspended last year, it was Terence Steele, not Nsehke, who got the nod. It’s clear that Dallas doesn’t think highly of Nsehke, but with Ball struggling so much it might make the most sense to bring back a familiar face.
It wasn’t too long ago that Nate Solder was regarded as one of the best left tackles in the NFL. He spent seven seasons guarding Tom Brady’s blind side 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 get an ill-advised bag from Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, becoming the highest-paid offensive lineman at the time. Like nearly everything the Giants did under Gettleman’s tenure, it didn’t work out and Solder was cut loose after this past year.
It’s fair to wonder how much the 34-year-old tackle still has left in the tank, but his résumé more than speaks for itself. Solder was a highly accomplished left tackle who’s been a part of a winning culture and has experience playing both left and right tackle. Bringing him in for a tryout, at the very least, would be worth doing.
Let’s stick with former Patriots linemen for a moment and highlight Marcus Cannon. Born and raised in Odessa, Texas and playing his college ball for TCU, this would represent a homecoming for Cannon. He was a highly productive college player but fell to the fifth round when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma during the combine.
Cannon has an inspiring story of overcoming his cancer diagnosis and then going on to have a great career in New England. After starting out as a swing tackle for the Patriots, Cannon eventually became their starting right tackle and was even named to the Second-Team All Pro in 2016.
Cannon spent last year with the Texans after being traded in a cap-saving move by New England, and Houston released him for the same reason this offseason. Cannon only played four games for the Texans before an injury shut his season down, but he was solid in that limited action. Not only would Cannon provide real competition for Ball, but he would represent insurance in case Steele isn’t ready to be the starting 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. Taken by the Chiefs in 2013, Fisher never quite lived up to his draft status but was always a solid tackle for them. He played right tackle in his rookie year before moving to left tackle the next year.
Fisher tore his Achilles in the 2020 AFC Championship game, which preceded his release that offseason in a cap-saving move. He ended up signing a one-year deal with the Colts last year and played adequately, though much of the team’s offensive linemen struggled to adjust to quarterback Carson Wentz’s longer times spent holding the ball.
Indianapolis did not re-sign Fisher, and it seems his performance last year has scared teams off from considering him a starter anymore. But in Dallas, Fisher would represent tremendous value as a swing tackle given his experience and pedigree.
If the Cowboys are serious about bringing in competition for Ball, then Bryan Bulaga should be getting a call yesterday. Bulaga has 12 years of experience in the NFL, with 10 of those coming in Green Bay with the Packers. Notably, Mike McCarthy was his head coach for nine of those years with the Packers; Bulaga left the team after the first season under new head coach Matt LaFleur.
Bulaga spent the last two years with the Chargers, although he had injuries in both seasons. In total, Bulaga played 11 games in Los Angeles before being released this offseason. Health has been an issue for the veteran of late, but he was being counted on as a starter in all those scenarios.
In Dallas, he’d get to reunite with McCarthy and Joe Philbin, who was the Packers’ offensive coordinator when Bulaga was drafted. Heath is an obvious question mark, but Bulaga is talented, experienced, and would have a level of familiarity with the blocking scheme that few others would.
Just a few years ago it seemed like the Cowboys and Eagles could both legitimately argue they had the best left tackle in the game. Tyron Smith is still a beast, but his consistent injuries have damaged his reputation league-wide. Meanwhile, Jason Peters saw a precipitous decline in performance in Philadelphia after very briefly moving to guard for 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 instantly became their starting left tackle. Despite turning 40 by the end of the year, Peters had a very strong year and was easily the best lineman for Chicago. With a new coaching staff and a youth movement along the offensive line, the Bears opted not to bring Peters back but it had nothing to do with his play.
Peters has already indicated that he wants to play in 2022 and is staying in shape while he awaits an opportunity. Whether he would play for the Cowboys and directly compete against the place he called home for 12 years is another question, but there’s no doubt that Peters would offer tremendous value as a swing tackle who’s almost guaranteed to get a couple of starts this year.
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