Zack Martin will soon become the highest-paid guard in NFL history, a record-breaking six-year extension Cowboys VP Stephen Jones foreshadowed last week and NFL Media's Ian Rapoport all but confirmed Monday afternoon.
Martin, 27, has started 67 consecutive games to begin his career, in which he's made four straight Pro Bowls, earned two first-team All-Pro nods and regularly managed to stand out on the NFL's premier O-line.
It's no surprise, then, that the ex-Notre Dame standout-turned-Cowboys mauling right guard would cash in after staying away from the team's voluntary work this offseason. Like Travis Frederick, a top-five NFL earner at center, and Tyron Smith, one of the highest-paid blindside protectors in football, Martin is an irreplaceable cog on what's typically been a well-oiled machine of a Cowboys O-line since Martin's arrival.
And with the O-line taking a step back in 2017, when Smith battled injuries and the team had no answer following Ronald Leary's free-agent exit, Martin's leverage likely increased. Now that he's been paid, the onus increases on the Cowboys front office to draft well, particularly at the offensive skill-positions.
Following the release of Dez Bryant and retirement of Jason Witten, few NFL clubs lost more pass-catching production this offseason. It's unfair to expect rookie receivers — third-rounder Michael Gallup and sixth-rounder Cedrick Wilson — and fourth-round TE Dalton Schultz to pick up the slack of a declining big-play wideout and future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Yet it's not only a reasonable but vital expectation that Dallas finds young cost-control playmakers in the passing game to ensure the tens of millions they've spent up front and on Zeke Elliott won't be for naught.
Even prior to what's sure to be a mind-blowing price tag for Martin — Jacksonville provided the blueprint in Andrew Norwell's five-year pact with $30 million guaranteed, and Norwell isn't nearly the player that Martin is — the Cowboys led the NFL in 2018 cap dollars allocated to their O-line, according to spotrac.com. Meantime, they're middle of the pack on WR spending — and that's only because they're carrying Bryant's $8 million in dead cap space. After Prescott's clear step back as a sophomore, getting more consistency not only from him but his playmakers is crucial toward a rebound.
And for the Cowboys to sustain their powerful offensive identity and prevent defenses from playing them like a one-dimensional club — also key to Prescott rediscovering his rookie form — it's critical that their drafting of pass catchers improves... fast. Terrance Williams, Gavin Escobar and Ryan Switzer are just a few of the recent failed draft picks. Can Dallas' success in drafting O-linemen carry over to receiver and tight end? Their salary cap — and playoff hopes — depend on it.