Succession: Cowboys don’t have to fear Zack Martin’s looming retirement

When Zack Martin suggested retirement would be a distinct possibility after the upcoming season, it caught some Cowboys fans off guard. For 10 years the Notre Dame product has been the gold standard at the guard position for Dallas and throughout the league. The thought of 2024 being his last season in the NFL is enough to make any football fan melancholy.

Martin is a seven-time First-Team All-Pro; he’s considered a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor and destined to go down as one of the greatest ever to play the game; regardless of team, regardless of position. When he eventually retires, his loss on the Cowboys will be felt. It’s unavoidable but doesn’t have to be as detrimental as retirements of yesteryear.

The Cowboys have felt the pain from sudden retirements before. When injuries pushed Troy Aikman out of the game, Dallas had no one lined up to replace him. When a neck-spine issue forced Michael Irvin to hang up the spikes, the Cowboys were not in position to replace him. Even recently when Travis Frederick suddenly retired, the Cowboys found themselves ill-prepared to replace the perennial All-Pro at center. But when Martin decides to call it quits, be it this year or later down the road, the Cowboys should find themselves in decent position to move forward.

The Cowboys have made their offensive line a priority as of late. They recently used two of their top three picks in the draft to address the position group and still have a handful of promising young prospects developing on the roster.

One prospect in particular, T.J. Bass, projects as a starting quality interior lineman ready to make the leap into the starting ranks. Bass impressed in limited action in 2023 and appears to have all the tools to be a plus-level OG in the NFL. As an undrafted free agent, he comes with a far more modest ceiling than Martin, but he’s shown enough to instill confidence Dallas could survive a sudden retirement from Martin.

The timing of Martin’s looming departure is also somewhat fortuitous for the Cowboys. His exit wouldn’t disrupt a fine-tuned cohesive unit because the offensive line is in a state of flux these days. Someone like Martin would be welcomed on any offensive line but if he has to walk away, now is a good time since the Cowboys are undergoing a regime change up front.

The unit as a whole is going through a pretty clear personnel churn. There are a number of possible outcomes that could unfold, and it could prove beneficial for Dallas if they don’t have to commit to a blueprint right here and right now. It also suggests Bass won’t be wasting away on the bench while Martin finishes up his career.

Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz have both left and Dallas hopes to install Tyler Guyton and Cooper Beebe in their place. If things go according to plan, Tyler Smith will then stay at left guard and Bass would be a reserve free to slide into Martin’s spot at RG whenever the day should arise.

If Beebe should struggle, Bass or Brock Hoffman could be the possible fix at center for the 2024 season. At that point the Cowboys will be happy they have Bass waiting in the wings and free to float. If Guyton struggles early, Tyler Smith can slide over to left tackle, paving the way for Bass at left guard. Again, the Cowboys will consider themselves lucky to have someone like Bass standing by.

Losing someone of Martin’s caliber is never a good thing, but the timing and the preparation all make this an ideal time for the unavoidable to happen. The fact it’s not happening immediately is also important because it allows the Cowboys to adjust to the changing circumstances up front and keep their top reserve, Bass, available to fill in where needs dictate.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire