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Cowboys add to offensive line but see key veterans leave via free agency

The Dallas Cowboys added to their offensive line depth in free agency, but they also saw some valuable contributors join other teams after being priced out.

DALLAS — As free agency heats up around the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys are beginning to dip their toes into the water. True to form, however, the team is opting to sign their own guys while looking to upgrade the roster with cheaper options than what’s available on the top shelf of the open market.

On day two of the legal tampering period, the Cowboys brought back one of their own in cornerback C.J. Goodwin, while their other addition came in the form of an offensive lineman. Tackle Ty Nsekhe, who played last season with the Buffalo Bills, was signed to a one-year deal to help solidify a unit that lost Cameron Erving to the Carolina Panthers.

Dallas needed a veteran swing tackle and now they have a solid one in Nsekhe. The Cowboys saw firsthand last season how difficult it is to navigate an NFL season when your top two tackles are out for lengthy periods of time and they didn’t want to be in the same position again. Nsekhe provides depth and insurance if LT Tyron Smith or RT La’el Collins go down with injuries again. 

The 35-year-old offensive lineman has played both tackle spots and figures to be the first man up if the team needs a tackle. Nsekhe has played in 81 games during his 7-year career, with 17 coming as a starter.

The Cowboys had a need to upgrade behind the starters and didn’t want to leave the offense in the hands of two young, undrafted tackles like they were forced to do in 2020. Brandon Knight and Terence Steele did an admirable job given the circumstances, but it was evident that the team couldn’t afford to stand pat. Now, both young tackles can continue to learn at the NFL level without as much pressure on their shoulders.

As has become tradition, the Cowboys sat and watched as the opening foray of free agency went on around them without adding an impact player. Nsekhe can help, but Dallas isn’t expected to be in on any big-name targets from around the league.

Instead of gaining help, the Cowboys watched a few pieces walk away from the team and sign new deals. The first out the door was linebacker Joe Thomas who took a ride down I-45 and joined the Houston Texans on a one-year contract. Perhaps more impactful, however, is Dallas saw backup veteran quarterback Andy Dalton sign with the Chicago Bears and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie leave for greener pastures with the Cincinnati Bengals.

It’s perhaps surprising that the Cowboys couldn’t find room for Thomas, but no one should be stunned that Dalton found a more lucrative deal somewhere else. Awuzie was one of the better cornerbacks to hit free agency, so it’s not shocking that he found a new home either. The issue for the Cowboys now is that all three positions will need to be addressed.

At linebacker, the Cowboys have two injury risk starters in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch and there’s not much depth behind them. Thomas played in 40 games over the last three seasons in Dallas and was a starter in 6 games over the last two years. 

Dallas also doesn’t have a solid backup quarterback option behind starter Dak Prescott with Dalton moving on. If they don’t add a veteran, they’re putting themselves at risk considering Prescott is returning from a major injury.

The Cowboys are very thin at CB, as well, which is why keeping Awuzie looked like a viable option but his offer from Cincinnati put him out of their range. With the former second-round selection now gone, the defense only has two good returning options at cornerback. Veteran Anthony Brown and 2020 rookie Trevon Diggs are holding down the fort at the position until the team finds help in free agency or through the draft.

Free agency is playing out exactly how the Cowboys want it to right now. Their plan has been in place to attack the second and third wave, which will come soon once the opening day frenzy subsides. Cowboys fans' patience might be running a little thin, but the team is right where they want to be. 

Do you think the Cowboys should have tried to retain Andy Dalton or Chidobe Awuzie? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi. 

SUBSCRIBE: The Locked On Cowboys podcast is on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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