The Cowboys opened 2023 training camp on Tuesday, and they did so without one of their most accomplished players. All-Pro guard Zack Martin, who had reportedly been considering a holdout while seeking a new contract, did not report along with other veterans this week, according to ESPN, leaving team owner Jerry Jones to avoid comment on the lineman’s financial future.
If Martin is one of Dallas’ most widely revered players, how did we get to this point? How will the Pro Bowler’s absence affect the Cowboys? And what does the future likely hold for the two sides? Here’s everything you need to know:
What led to Martin’s holdout
Martin is widely considered one of the best linemen in the NFL. An eight-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, he’s helped power some of the league’s most explosive run and pass games in Dallas. Going on 33, he’s also been durable, missing more than two games just once in his nine-year career. The dominant resume helped earn Martin a six-year, $84 million contract extension in 2018.
But in the five years since, the market for interior linemen has changed dramatically. Averaging $14M per year, the Cowboys captain enters 2023 ranked No. 8 among guards in terms of per-year earnings, behind recently paid veterans like the Falcons’ Chris Lindstrom ($20.5M), Packers’ Elgton Jenkins ($17M) and Jaguars’ Brandon Scherff ($16.5M).
Believing himself “woefully underpaid relative” to the interior OL market, per ESPN, Martin sought a redo of his extension this February, but only “brief discussions” have occurred since, with Dallas seemingly preoccupied with future extensions for ascending starters like CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs, as well as a potential new deal for quarterback Dak Prescott.
How it affects the Cowboys
Martin has been around long enough that his absence shouldn’t hinder any chemistry with Prescott or fellow linemen. But it’s notable that, entering Year 10, he’ll be transitioning to a new blocking scheme under former Seahawks assistant Mike Polari, who was hired this offseason to replace Joe Philbin. An extended lack of reps in the new system could prove troublesome down the road. More importantly, from a general perspective, Dallas’ front is demonstrably worse without Martin in the lineup.
The Cowboys are already facing underrated questions in the trenches, where longtime left tackle Tyron Smith has played just 17 combined games the last three years, incumbent right tackle Terrence Steele is returning from an ACL tear and 2022 first-round pick Tyler Smith could subsequently be tasked with playing multiple spots. Martin, therefore, registers as even more valuable for his steady reliability at right guard; removing him only complicates an already-shuffling depth chart.
If, of course, Martin’s absence extends further than expected, such as into the season, then the concerns become much graver. Prescott has missed significant time due to injury in two of his last three seasons, so the Cowboys can’t really afford to shortchange the QB’s protection.
What comes next
While Jerry Jones didn’t elaborate on potential negotiations with Martin, he made it clear Tuesday the lineman is “in our plans.” The Cowboys also aren’t short on salary cap space for 2023, with approximately $20.7M free, per Over the Cap. While Lamb and Diggs are certainly higher on the list of internal priorities, they’re also under team control through 2024 if you consider both Lamb’s fifth-year option and the possibility of Dallas using the franchise tag on Diggs. In short, it’d be a mild shock if the Cowboys didn’t resolve the Martin holdup sometime this summer, either with a one-year pay raise or a more extensive restructure.
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