Tyron Smith has been a fixture at left tackle for the Cowboys for over a decade. But after issues with injuries and missed games continued in 2021, how solid is Smith's position beyond the upcoming season? Could Dallas start preparing for Tyron's exit through one of their 2022 draft picks?
As has been well documented by now, Smith missed six games last season with ankle issues and 14 in 2020 after a neck injury. Prior to these longer absences, Tyron missed three games every season from 2016-2019 with a variety of ailments.
Now 31 years old and entering his 13th season, Smith's ability to stay on the field has to be a concern for the Cowboys. And with Dallas choosing not restructure his contract this year, a move they've done almost annually to create cap space, it could be a sign that the team is starting to consider a future without their mainstay left tackle.
In an offseason where the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper for peanuts and released La'el Collins in the name of cap space, preserving their flexibility on Tyron's deal was not a small statement. If Dallas doesn't touch Smith's deal the rest of the offseason they will have the option to release him outright in 2023 for over $9.5 million in cap relief.
The decision to cut Collins in March was partially due to having Terence Steele ready to take over. Dallas is comfortable with Steele's ability to play right tackle and develop further in that role going forward.
There is no such replacement option currently on the left side. While one of last year's 4th-round picks, Josh Ball, has some potential he missed his entire rookie season on injured reserve and still needs to prove he can be just be an acceptable backup for now.
With the clock ticking on Tyron Smith and no succession plan in place, Dallas could justifiably look at offensive tackle as a key need in the upcoming draft. And while left guard and wide receiver have been the consensus positions for the Cowboys to spend their early picks on, a strong case could be made for someone who could provide depth in 2022 and perhaps replace Smith in his second year.
In fact, some of the options in this draft could help Dallas with another need as rookies. Top OT prospects like Ikem Ekwonu, Trevor Penning, and Tyler Smith have the size and strength to play guard as well.
Sure, pure guards like Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson may also be there at the Cowboys' pick. But a guy who could eventually play left tackle for you may be a better use of that valuable resource.
Of course, Dallas could go WR on Thursday night and focus on offensive line help in Day 2 of the draft. But at that point, they may just want to see what Josh Ball has to offer next year before dumping another mid-round pick into offensive tackle.
As always, only the Cowboys know for sure how much they're counting on Tyron Smith beyond 2022. If he can finally turn the corner on medical issues, Smith could extend his tenure here for another few seasons. But as good as he can still be when healthy, Tyron has to quit missing so many games to not be seen as a liability.
Dallas clearly is keeping the option open next year to part ways with Smith. And given that, they may address offensive tackle much earlier than you think in the upcoming draft.