The Cowboys desperately wanted Jets safety Jamal Adams at the NFL trade deadline last month.
They offered New York a first-round draft pick. Then they sweetened the deal with a midround pick that was, reportedly, as high as the third round.
That was some aggressive trade-deadline maneuvering for a team that only a year earlier shipped a first-round pick to Oakland for receiver Amari Cooper.
But the Jets wanted more. They wanted right guard Zack Martin.
And the click you heard coming from Dallas was the Cowboys hanging up.
No deal. Martin was off-limits. As off-limits as if the Jets had asked for Ezekiel Elliott.
In five full seasons, Martin already has three first-team All-Pro selections from the Associated Press. So, right now, at age 28, this 6-4, 315-pound interior blocking machine already has as many or more AP first-team All-Pro honors as six guards already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He has as many as Joe DeLamielleure, Gene Hickerson and that famous Washington Hog, Russ Grimm. He has one more than Mike Munchak and Will Shields, who went to 12 straight Pro Bowls. And he has two more than Tom Mack, who played 13 years.
“He’s probably the most technically sound guard you’ll ever come across,” Vikings defensive tackle Shamar Stephen said of Martin. “I mean his technique is amazing. And he plays strong. He’s physical. He’s got the whole package.”
The same can be said of the Cowboys’ entire offensive line, which Pro Football Outsiders ranks as the NFL’s best at run blocking and fourth best at pass protection. The only other team in the top five in both categories is the Raiders, who rank fourth in run blocking and second in pass protection.
When asked Thursday if this is the best offensive line the Vikings have faced this season, the first three words to leave defensive coordinator George Edwards’ mouth were, “I’d say yeah.” Then, not wanting to slight previous opponents, three of whom the Vikings have to play again, he quickly added that “every week is the best offensive line we’ve faced, you know what I mean?”
Absolutely, George. The Cowboys do indeed have the best line the Vikings have faced this year. In fact, if you’re looking to crown an MVP of a team that ranks No. 1 in yards per game (436.8), yards per play (6.69) and passing yards per play (8.42), it’s no one named Zeke or Dak or Amari or Jason.
It’s a five-headed unit that goes, left to right, two-time first-team All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith, guard Connor Williams, one-time first-team All-Pro center Travis Frederick, Martin and tackle La’el Collins. Smith (2011), Frederick (2013) and Martin (2014) were first-round picks, Williams (2018) was a second-round pick and Collins (2015) would have been a first-round pick had pre-draft legal issues that later were resolved not caused him to go undrafted.
“You can’t win in this league without good offensive and defensive lines,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s been that way for 100 years. Games start up front. Skill players can’t live up to their potential without the line.”
If there’s one thing the Cowboys can be proud of during Garrett’s otherwise inconsistent nine-year run, it’s the construction of this offensive line.
“We had some great linemen, but they were aging,” Garrett said of 2011, his first season as head coach. “[Andre] Gurode, [Marc] Colombo, [Flozell] Adams, [Leonard] Davis. We released three of them in one year. We had to build it back up.”
If any team should understand the importance of this line’s cohesiveness to Cowboys management, it’s the Jets team that tried to pry loose the premium piece — Martin.
On Oct. 13, the Cowboys went into MetLife Stadium to face a winless Jets team. It should have been a layup. But Smith and Collins — both starting tackles — were injured and couldn’t play.
A nation of football fans watched Dallas do a prime-time face plant, falling behind 21-3 before making a furious rally that fell short, 24-22.
The Cowboys line is expected to be at full strength against the Vikings on Sunday night. Just as it has been during the team’s current two-game win streak.
“This will be a big challenge for our guys this weekend,” Edwards said. “I think we’ll be up for the challenge.”
They better be.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org