Budgeting for the offensive line is not an easy task as this group, whose numbers normally hover around 10 every season, can consume a large portion of a team’s salary cap. Even when only one player is paid top dollar, the amount of money spent on linemen can be a burden based on sheer numbers. With so many teams across the league scrambling for viable options, Dallas has assembled a cast of young hopefuls that could provide depth for the next few years.
The Cowboys will need to address the starting left tackle position this offseason, and although the upcoming draft is full of options, bringing back Tyron Smith could be the smart play. So could an agreement with center Tyler Biadasz, who is slated to hit the open market for the first time in his career. Here’s a rundown of what is currenly on the ledger for the group going into 2024.
Zack Martin | Age: 33 | Cap Hit: $28,500,000 – 11.5% | UDFA: 2025
Entering the final year of his contract, Cowboys All-Pro right guard Zack Martin takes home the second biggest piece of pie on the roster. With a $28.5 million cap hit, Martin’s contract was reworked in August to give possibly the greatest player at the position a number worthier of his status. While his mini-holdout gave the player a deserved raise, Dallas tucked almost $13.5 million of his cap hit into three void years beginning in 2025. Any future restructuring of his contract enlarges the hit on void years.
The nine-time Pro Bowl and seven-time All Pro player’s future plans comes with question marks. Is it too early to think of life without Martin, or could he be a player Dallas looks to extend and possibly gain more cap space? Martin will turn 34 in late November and gave up the most sacks (4) and pressures (22) he has ever allowed in a season. On the other hand, Martin is still playing at an elite level, even if he is starting to show he is human after all.
Terence Steele | Age: 26 | Cap Hit: $11,000,000 – 4.4% | UDFA: 2029
Starting right tackle Terence Steele surprised everyone when he took part in training camp after suffering a torn ACL late in the 2022 season. Before his injury, Steele was becoming a dominant run blocker and his pass protection was beginning to improve. In the offseason, he would sign a five-year extension with a base value of $82.5 million. He would go on and start all 17 games for the Cowboys in 2023 but coming back from a severe injury was probably a contributing factor to his drop in play.
Steele will be an entire offseason removed from a grueling rehab process and can now continue on his ascension to becoming one of the better right tackles in the game. While some scoffed at the new deal he signed, the Cowboys protected themselves in case Steele struggled to return to form. Steele doesn’t have any guaranteed salary past the 2024 season, leaving the door cracked open for an escape.
Tyler Smith | Age: 22 | Cap Hit: $3,651,577 – 1.5% | UDFA: 2026
All Pro left guard Tyler Smith cannot rework his contract until after the 2024 season as all players need three accrued seasons before they can open negotiations. His rookie contract has two years remaining as well as the fifth-year option making Smith one of the better decisions made by this franchise. Continuing to earn such honors will only push his contract numbers further north even before discussing an extension with the front office brass.
Fifth-year options applied to all first-round draft picks aren’t only tied to the position they play. There are four tiers based on accolades earned. The basic tier is a player who did not meet any requirements while level two is tied to playing time. One original Pro Bowl nomination would place him in the third tier. The highest level, which pays out the most, is applied to a player with multiple Pro Bowl nominations.
Smith was named as an alternate this year, so he’s currently at Tier 2 as he’s already played over 75% of snaps in each of his two seasons.
Josh Bal |l Age:25 | Cap Hit: $1.179.836 – 0.5% | UDFA: 2025
Reserve tackle Josh Ball has had an injury-riddled professional career and has only played in 13 games, all of which came in 2022. The 2021 fourth-round pick is entering the final year of his rookie contract and has yet to start an NFL game. Strong performances by a few rookies this past season may have pushed Ball further down the depth chart.
Cowboys G/T Josh Ball underwent an MRI today that revealed a soft tissue injury in hip-groin area that will sideline him about two months, a person familiar with result said. Injury occurred on the opening drive Saturday, limiting his ability to anchor in pass pro before exit.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 27, 2023
A large majority of his problems come from his injuries. After missing his entire rookie season with an ankle injury, Ball injured his hip in the final preseason game against Seattle and never made it back to the active roster. His 42 snaps on offense in 2022 remain the only production Ball has provided for the Cowboys. With the fourth-largest cap hit in the room, availability must become his best ability or be in danger of being cut loose altogether.
Matt Waletzko | Age: 24 | Cap Hit: $995,873 – 0.4% | UDFA: 2026
Cowboys tackle Matt Waletzko will be entering a critical third season with Dallas after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft. The oft-injured tackle has only played in four games in his first two seasons after dealing with a nagging shoulder injury that has followed him throughout his professional career.
Highlights from Mike McCarthy’s press conference ahead of day 2 of Cowboys Minicamp:
•Tony Pollard has a commanding presence and is excellent with the younger players
•Matt Waletzko is having one heck of an offseason that has been impressive
•Simi Fehoko has had a hell of an… pic.twitter.com/ag6BBbew2f
— Jess Nevarez (@JessNevarez_) June 7, 2023
If Waletzko’s shoulder can hold up, he would be a very intriguing piece for this offensive line. Various in-house options at the position for very little money can change the direction of a unit. The days of bringing in a veteran on a one-year deal for insurance purposes could be a thing of the past if players like Waletzko could stay healthy. His progress on the field appears to be satisfactory in the little time he has played.
Brock Hoffman | Age: 24 | Cap Hit: $985,000 – 0.3% | RFA: 2025
Cowboys picked up reserve interior lineman Brock Hoffman back in November of the 2022 season after the Browns released him during his rookie year from their practice squad. The undrafted free agent did not make the initial 53-man roster in 2023 in Dallas but returned to the practice squad in hopes of something more. His wishes were answered as the Cowboys didn’t get out of September before signing him to the active roster where he stayed all season long. The unknown guy with the attitude needed for the position turned out to be a great pickup.
A lot of good tape from quality, swing interior backup Brock Hoffman filling in this year going back to preseason. Awesome finisher who mixes up sets and hands in pass protection. pic.twitter.com/gg7wUXdVpa
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) January 9, 2024
Hoffman impressed with his play throughout the year showing the ability to complete the job on a part-time basis. With experience at both guard and center, Hoffman figures to have a good shot at keeping his roster spot after playing over 200 snaps this season. With the center position undefined at the moment and a minimal salary cap risk, keeping “Big Time Brock” feels like a no-brainer.
Dakoda Shepley | Age: 29 | Cap Hit: $985,000 – 0.3% | RFA: 2026
Guard Dakoda Shepley has bounced around the league with a couple of stints in Dallas. Although he went to training camp as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets back in 2018, Shepley has failed to accrue much time and won’t be a restricted free agent until the 2026 offseason, assuming he can latch onto a roster. With seven players in the room 26 years old or younger, Shepley is currently older than everyone except Martin. With reserve roles quickly filling up, Shepley needs to have a strong camp in order to stick on the team. Luckily for him, his salary shouldn’t become an issue when debating roster spots.
Asim Richards | Age: 23 | Cap Hit: $976,245 – 0.4% | UDFA: 2027
Rookie fifth-round tackle Asim Richards had a strong training camp earning a roster spot and provided hope the Cowboys finally found young reliable depth on the edge of the line. After a good start, things began to change. During the first eight weeks of the season, his 40 snaps in four games could have been an indication Dallas believed he was progressing faster than anticipated. He was a decent run blocker at times but was much better at pass protection.
The second half of the season was a total role reversal. Other than special teams, he wouldn’t see the field until the final week in Washington. Even then, Richards would only play seven snaps on offense. His small salary mixed with the draft capital spent to acquire Richards makes him a good bet to make the roster again but the reason for his drop in playing time is a concern.
T.J. Bass Age: 24 Cap Hit: $918,333 – 0.4% RFA: 2026
If the Cowboys did not employ two All-Pro guards, there could be a scenario where T.J. Bass would be in the opening-day lineup in Dallas. Having him as a backup gives the interior of the line tremendous depth and versatility with Bass having experience playing both sides.
New | The #DallasCowboys have needed undrafted rookie T.J. Bass to step up multiple times this season. It's a role that requires attentiveness and preparedness. Bass, behind the scenes, has done just that.
"He's a sponge." https://t.co/nv4wlzYnrS
— Joseph Hoyt (@JoeJHoyt) January 3, 2024
Dallas continues to hit on the undrafted market and Bass may be the latest example of that. After going undrafted out of Oregon, the former Duck impressed early in training camp. He immediately attracted everyone’s attention and then slowly cashed in his strong performances. Bass capped the year with an impressive start in the final week of the season against Washington and may be the primary backup interior lineman on the roster.
Earl Bostick | Age: 25 | Cap Hit: $795,000 – 0.3% | RFA: 2026
The top undrafted prospect Dallas targeted after the 2023 draft was Kansas left tackle Earl Bostick. After what was essentially a redshirt year, Bostick figures to be more prepared for a competition filled with drafted players ahead of him. With decisions looming about how to move forward with the left tackle position, developing another undrafted lineman would do wonders for their edge depth.
Nine of the Cowboys’ undrafted free agents received guarantees of at least $100,000, led by Kansas OT Earl Bostick at $220,000 ($200k base salary guarantee, $20k bonus). The base guarantees is sign the club believes the player will be on practice squad at minimum.
The rest: pic.twitter.com/TyWzQONt88
— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) May 23, 2023
Handing out such a large portion of guaranteed money to a single undrafted player should be a sign that Bostick might have a good chance of earning a spot on the team in some capacity. Bostick was a tight end who converted to tackle while at Kansas meaning he is still learning the nuances of the position. Like most converted tight ends, athleticism is usually not an issue but strength tends to be the biggest problem. A strong offseason program may be more beneficial to Bostick than any other player currently under contract.
Tyron Smith | Cap Hit: 2.4% - Void Year | Age: 33 | UFA 2024
Will he return or won’t he? That is the question surrounding Cowboys All Pro left tackle Tyron Smith. With more than a handful of options in both free agency and the NFL draft, moving on from Tyron would be easier this season than in most. Before any decisions are made, Smith will impact the cap as the Cowboys must account for $6 million of potential dead money.
Draft Capital Spent:
1st round pick (2014), 1st round pick (2022), 4th round pick (2021), 5th round pick (2022), 5th round pick (2023)
Standing at 22.4%, the Cowboys are spending almost a quarter of their salary cap on the offensive line. A closer look tells you that over half of the money goes to Zack Martin while the other nine cap charges account for 10.9%. This includes left tackle Tyron Smith, who at the moment, is not on the 2024 roster but still accounts for 2.4%. Excluding Smith’s void year, Dallas is paying 8.5% of their cap for eight linemen totaling $21.4 million including two starters. Although young, replenishing the offensive line by using an early draft pick to replace a starter may be a great long-term solution to lowering a historically high compensation percentage in Dallas.