Cowboys’ Stephen Jones looking to in-house backups to fill OL holes: ‘You have to continue to evolve’

Cowboys’ Stephen Jones looking to in-house backups to fill OL holes: ‘You have to continue to evolve’

It was frustrating for Cowboys fans to watch a perennial All-Pro like Tyron Smith and even a Pro Bowler in Tyler Biadasz walk out the door in free agency. It’s been downright maddening to watch the front office make zero moves to fortify their positions on the offensive line in preparation for the 2024 season.

That’s led to much hand-wringing in the pre-draft process as observers try to match up the top prospects of this year’s college class with the spots left vacant by veteran departures. Sure, there are talented tackles, guards, and centers to be had, but the roster is thin in other areas, too, and seven picks won’t plug all the holes. The Cowboys certainly can’t afford to whiff on a rookie offensive lineman and leave quarterback Dak Prescott in the crosshairs in what could be the organization’s last best shot for a while.

But for all the what-ifs about which big man Dallas should draft with the 24th overall pick, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones hinted during a Tuesday radio phone-in that the answers to the O-line questions may already be inside the building.

He started by explaining the business decisions that led to Smith and Biadasz no longer wearing the star.

“We just think you have to continue to evolve as an offensive line,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan’s K&C Masterpiece. “And certainly, you hate to lose a player like Tyron Smith, who’s going to, in my opinion, be a Hall of Famer. I think he’s going to be wearing a yellow jacket, but at the same time, unfortunately, Tyron’s had to miss a lot of games, and at some point, you have to make those tough decisions. Certainly, you hate to lose Tyler at center in terms of what he had done for us, but at some point there, you’ve got to make a tough decision that we can have him go to another team and we can replace him hopefully and have a center who’s better.”

Most Cowboys fans would have to agree that getting 13 games out of Smith last season was a stroke of considerable luck. And while Biadasz was a solid player from Day One, he’s probably not the kind of center you break the bank for to keep on a second contract.

So what is the master plan up front? As sure as most analysts are that the Cowboys need to look to the draft’s early rounds for top-tier offensive line help, Jones allowed for another possible approach. It’s the Cowboys’ favorite approach of all: putting all their chips on in-house development and promoting from within.

“We like the young guys that we’ve brought in here over the years, not unlike Connor McGovern stepped up after being a backup for three years,” Jones explained. “He stepped up and played really good at guard and then got awarded a contract in Buffalo. We have guys like [Matt] Waletzko and Asim Richards and young players that are on the come. T.J. Bass played really well for us last year. Obviously, they’re guys that our fans aren’t as acquainted with as much because they haven’t played as much, but we feel like they can step up, not unlike Tyler did as a rookie at center and play really well.”

The 6-foot-8-inch Waletzko was a fifth-round pick out of North Dakota in 2022. He’s appeared in four games over two years.

Richards was a fifth-rounder last year. He took 39 total snaps with the offense as a rookie.

Bass went undrafted out of Oregon last spring but was used in every game of the 2023 season.

But expecting any of them- or Josh Ball or Earl Bostick Jr. or Dakoda Shepley- to suddenly be an every-down starter five months from now and hold their own alongside the likes of Zack Martin and Tyler Smith is a gargantuan leap.

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Hope springs eternal, though, especially when a Jones is in front of a live microphone. And whether Stephen really believes the Cowboys are all set on the offensive line or he’s just trying to smokescreen some attention away from the prospect they’re eyeing in next week’s opening round of the draft, his latest comments won’t do much to placate the legions of Cowboys fans who feel like the team is trying to hold this thing together (and maybe not even very hard) with duct tape and baling wire and rose-colored soundbites and a locker room full of what the club seems to view as interchangeable parts.

“Versatility is a huge thing, and that’s what Tyler Smith brings to the table, the fact that he can swing out there [from left guard to left tackle],” he said in closing. “And if we feel like there’s a better fit at guard or center, and knowing that we have a player like T.J. Bass there, then we can look at it. We like Waletzko; he’s had a couple things injury-wise and we haven’t necessarily needed him. Same goes for Asim Richards. We feel like we’ve got some answers there at tackle. I think the bigger thing is we’ve got a young player in [Brock] Hoffman there at center, but there are some guys that we may give a chance to snap the ball; it’s not out of the question that T.J. Bass gets reps at the center position. All these things will work into our strategy as we move forward.”

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire