David Irving isn't the only restricted free agent the Dallas Cowboys have this offseason. Fullback Keith Smith, who has been an important piece in one of the league's best rushing attacks for two years, also has an expiring contract. What move might the Cowboys make to retain him in 2018?
Even though he entered the NFL in 2014, Smith has only had three “accrued seasons” towards free agency. He was only active for five games in 2015, and it takes six games to a year to count towards your eventual free agent status.
As such, Dallas will have the ability to keep Keith around using the RFA tenders. While the official amounts have not yet been announced, they are projected to be around $4 million for the first-round tender, $3 million for the second round, and $2 million for the original draft pick.
Given that he's only been paid about $600-$700k each of the last two years, Keith Smith is unlikely to get that kind of raise from the Cowboys. Fullbacks, even for a run-heavy team like Dallas, just don't have that kind of earning potential without being exceptional talents with versatile offensive skills.
That isn't to say the Cowboys wouldn't like to have Keith Smith back. Along with being a solid blocker, Smith has experience as a linebacker and on special teams. He turns just 26 in April and could be a good value option for the next season or two.
Even the lowest RFA tender at $2 million would be a bit rich for his services, though. Even worse, Smith was undrafted so the Cowboys wouldn't even get a draft pick back if somebody did try to sign him away.
If Dallas brings Keith back, it would likely be for another short-term deal at about the same salary level as he's had the last two seasons. It wouldn't be a glamorous move, but it would secure one important role on the offense and allow the team to focus elsewhere.
After a shaky year for quarterback Dak Prescott, Dallas may be leaning even harder on the run in 2018. Chemistry between Ezekiel Elliott and his lead blocker is important, so keeping Keith Smith around could have some extra incentive.
If Dallas were to let Smith walk, they may not replace him from the outside. We could see running back Rod Smith used in the FB role at times. Tight ends James Hanna and Geoff Swaim could also get work there. If nothing else, Dallas might start using more of their two-TE sets or other single-back formations.
Even though Keith Smith is a restricted free agent, the Cowboys still have to make a move to keep him around. They will either need to tag him with one of the RFA tenders or agree to some other form of contract, otherwise the fullback will be looking or a new team this offseason.