- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- It seems as if Jerry Jones is remembering he was an offensive lineman on a national championship team at Arkansas.
For the third time in the past four years the Cowboys selected an offensive lineman with their first pick by taking Zack Martin with the 16th pick. In 2011, they took Tyron Smith with the ninth pick. In 2013 they took Travis Frederick with the 31st pick.
The Cowboys had gone from 1982 to 2010 without taking an offensive lineman in the first round. Now they love picking linemen.
The pick helps Tony Romo and it also helps the Cowboys for whenever they decide to find Romo's successor.
At 34 and coming off two back surgeries, Romo will have to be protected perhaps more than he has ever been protected. Some of Romo's finest moments have come when he has broken free from an onrushing defender with a spin move and bought time outside the pocket. It's what made Romo, Romo.
With three first-round picks along the offensive line, the Cowboys have fortified Romo's protection. Romo was sacked 35 times last year. In four of his past five full seasons he has been sacked at least 34 times. Not all sacks are created equal, and part of Romo's decline in interceptions in 2013 was due to the fact that he took more sacks.
The Cowboys can play Martin at guard or tackle in 2014 and possibly move him to tackle in 2015 if Doug Free is not re-signed. It is possible Free could move to guard as well. He took some snaps there last summer but had a bounce-back year at right tackle in 2013.
While the Cowboys are committed to Romo, he cannot play forever. Whenever they move on, they will have an offensive line that will allow the young quarterback to learn behind a veteran offensive line.
Smith had his first of what should be many Pro Bowl seasons in 2013. He is considered the best young tackle in football and could sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys as early as this offseason. Frederick started every game as a rookie in 2013 and is signed through 2016 with an option for 2017. Now the Cowboys have Martin.
Breaking in a young quarterback is always difficult. If Martin can play the way Smith and Frederick have played, the Cowboys will ease that transition.
And if you think about it, this move can help the defense, too. If Martin plays well, the running game improves. If the running game improves, the offense improves. If the offense improves, the defense, which was ranked last in 2013, is on the field less in 2014.