FRISCO, Texas -- When Travis Frederick announced his retirement on Monday, the immediate reaction was that the position of center should became one of the biggest 2020 NFL draft needs for the Dallas Cowboys.
Not so fast, and here's why.
In some ways, the Cowboys prepared for the potential of Frederick not returning to form when they selected Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. The Cowboys did not need an interior offensive lineman, but they got a player they had a second-round grade on with the 90th overall pick.
McGovern started 13 games at center as a sophomore at Penn State but also played guard. A partially torn pectoral muscle suffered during the organized team activities and then aggravated later in the training camp left McGovern on injured reserve as a rookie during the 2019 season. Though McGovern did not play, it doesn't mean he wasn't learning from Frederick.
Last week, the Cowboys re-signed veteran Joe Looney, who started at center for Frederick in 2018 as he battled through Guillain-Barré syndrome. Looney signed a one-year deal worth $2.4 million. And there was a possibility had the Frederick news came out sooner that Looney could have secured a larger, multiyear deal.
Another option to fill in is Adam Redmond. He arrived in Dallas in 2018 as a waiver pickup as a center and was active for one game last season, before going on injured reserve with a back injury.
Then there's 2018 second-round pick Connor Williams. He has started at left guard when healthy for most of his first two seasons, but he could get a look at center as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in November.
It's worth noting that a 2020 draft pick (Dallas has the No. 17 overall pick) is not going to be as good -- at least immediately -- as Frederick. ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. has Cesar Ruiz as the highest rated center and the 25th-ranked player on his board, but in talking about Ruiz, he mentions his ability to play guard, as well.
With Frederick out of the lineup in 2018, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times. With Frederick back in 2019, Prescott was sacked 23 times. It's far too elementary to say the reason why the sacks came down was Frederick's return.
In 2018, the Cowboys had a new offensive line coach in Paul Alexander, who brought in different techniques than what Dallas had used previously. After seven games, Alexander was replaced by Marc Colombo, who tried to direct the Cowboys back to their physical mindset. Prescott took blame for some of the issues as well with his dropbacks not being uniform and putting his linemen in poor situations at times.
Frederick's return helped in 2019 -- but so did the full return to the blocking philosophies, Prescott's improved footwork and better play from the wide receivers and tight ends.
At some point, the Cowboys will have to win without first-round picks present everywhere on the offensive line. Cowboys line coach Joe Philbin will be tasked with keeping his group as the team's strength, and he still has left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and right tackle La'el Collins. It is a stellar lineup that is quite a bit better than what the Cowboys have on the defensive line or in the secondary.
With the way the Cowboys are structured against the salary cap as of Tuesday -- more than $110 million on offense to roughly $67 million on defense -- they have to draft defense.
They have kept their linebacker core in place with Sean Lee, Joe Thomas and Justin March returning, along with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, but the Cowboys need help in their front and back.
While there is some optimism about Randy Gregory's possible return from indefinite suspension, DeMarcus Lawrence is the lone proven pass-rusher left (with Robert Quinn off to Chicago). And while the Cowboys added Gerald McCoy in free agency, they still need size and depth on the interior.
At center, the Cowboys have some options without Frederick.
They can't say the same about key spots on defense.