Tyron Smith has missed the last two games for the Dallas Cowboys, continuing a trend of absenteeism that goes back to 2016. Is this turning into a larger issue for the Cowboys, and how much longer will they be willing to deal with it?
There’s no questioning that Smith, even when playing with some nagging injuries, is still one of the top left tackles in football. When he’s on the field Tyron still generally plays like the guy who’s been to seven Pro Bowls and been named to four All-Pro teams.
But staying on the field has become the issue. Smith has missed three games every season since 2016; a few for veteran rest but most due to injuries. He has been combating chronic back, neck, and shoulder issues for some time and they don’t seem to be getting any better.
It’s Tyron’s neck that’s kept him out of two of the Cowboys’ first three games in 2020. This is early for Smith to miss time; usually it comes further into the schedule.
With 13 games still to go, it seems likely that Tyron will miss more than his usual three games this year. If this trend goes from annoying to disturbing, what could it mean for Smith’s future in Dallas?
Like the other stud offensive linemen from the 2011-2014 drafts, Tyron received a massive contract extension as his rookie deal was ending. While there’s been a lot of restructuring and tinkering with his contract through the year, Smith is effectively signed through the 2023 season.
2021 marks the first season when the Cowboys can get salary cap relief by releasing Tyron Smith. They save a little over $5 million if he’s cut outright and $10.5 million if they make him a June-1st release.
Dallas would have a hard time using that cap space, or even their 1st-round pick next year, and find a player who can truly replace Smith as a talent. But if he continues to become unreliable due to health, is Tyron really worth his high cap hit of $14-$15 million each of the next three seasons?
Would a lesser player with more consistent availability ultimately be the better use of cap space and a roster spot?
Hopefully that question doesn’t have to be asked this offseason. Tyron should return to action this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and will hopefully remain healthy enough to keep playing for the remainder of the year.
But if Smith keeps missing games, and especially if it’s more than the usual three, the Cowboys are going to have to take a hard look at him and their other options.
This will be Tyron Smith’s 10th NFL season and he’s been a full-time starter since Day One. Even though he just turns 30 this December, Smith’s NFL mileage is adding up and the effects are showing.
At a certain point, tough as it may be, Dallas may have to admit that their longtime asset has turned into a liability.