One of the biggest storylines heading into the 2021 NFL regular season for the Dallas Cowboys are players returning from injury. Specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
Starters like quarterback Dak Prescott, tight end Blake Jarwin, right tackle La’el Collins, and left tackle Tyron Smith all missed significant time last season due to injuries. Their absence was a major reason why the Cowboys struggled to put up a 6-10 record in the league’s worst division, the NFC East.
If there was a mixed blessing associated with last season in Dallas it was the fact that others had an opportunity to shine, especially along the injury-riddled offensive line. While young players like offensive tackles Brandon Knight and undrafted rookie Terence Steele get valuable experience, it was starting left guard Connor Williams who, at times, was the most consistent contributor along the O-Line last season.
Here’s what Sam Monson wrote recently on Pro Football Focus after ranking Connor Williams the 21st best offensive guard in the NFL entering the 2021 regular season.
“For some time, seemingly every draft pick Dallas spent on the offensive line turned into an All-Pro starter. While Connor Williams hasn’t done that, he has developed into a good player, particularly as the line has deteriorated around him. Williams is coming off a career year in which he produced an overall PFF grade of 70.8.”
A second-round selection out of Texas in the 2018 NFL Draft, Williams joined an offensive line in Dallas that featured three perennial Pro Bowlers in Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin, and former center Travis Frederick. So the expectations for the high draft pick were sky-high.
Unfortunately, Williams struggled as a rookie moving from tackle to guard due to a lack of strength and weight. He focused on rebuilding himself physically the following offseason and has shown steady growth ever since. And that led to Williams having his best performance yet in 2020.
This upcoming season will be a pivotal one in the career of Williams. The 24-year old is entering the final year of his rookie deal in Dallas and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
As owner and general manager Jerry Jones is often fond of saying, there are only so many slices of pie available when it comes to the team’s salary cap. While the Dallas Cowboys would surely love to keep Connor Williams if his play continues its upward trend in 2021, their current investments across the roster, including along their offensive line, might not allow them to do so.