There may not be a single player on the Cowboys roster with a more confounding contract situation than Offensive Tackle Tyron Smith. While the veteran's missed a lot of playing time over the last two years, he's still a solid performer when healthy and has a very reasonable salary compared to other NFL left tackles. It leaves Dallas with a tough decision to make about Smith's future with the team.
It was one thing with Tyron missed three games each year from 2016-2019. Some of those absences were voluntary; veteran rest in meaningless season finales. Others weren't as painless but at least weren't happening enough to make the All-Pro tackle a liability.
But now Smith has missed 20 games over the last two years. He was out for nearly all of 2020 following neck surgery and then missed six games in 2021 with ankle issues.
Though Dallas managed to still go 4-2 during Tyron's injury absences last season, the two losses against Denver and Kansas City were critical. The Cowboys may very well have earned the top seed in the NFC with wins in those games, and who knows the difference that could've made to their playoff fortunes?
The good news on Tyron Smith is that last year's ankle issues weren't ongoing complications from his chronic neck and shoulder problems. If those are finally behind, the 31-year-old Smith could reasonably return in 2022 and still provide strong play at left tackle for at least another season or more.
Still, 20 missed games in two years is staggering. Jerry Jones has spoken to “availability” being the most important ability of any player; a potential indictment of anyone like Tyron who has become increasingly unable to stay on the field.
The Cowboys are currently $13.5 million over the 2022 salary cap and obviously need to make some moves. They could save about $5.5 million by releasing Smith outright or $13.5 million if they make him a June-1st cut.
However, there's nobody currently on the roster that you'd want taking over at left tackle. Neither La'el Collins or Terence Steele would be good there and Ty Nsekhe, a free agent in 2022, is nothing more than a backup. Fourth-round pick Josh Ball from 2021 can't be relied on at this time for anything, having missed his rookie year with an ankle injury and getting the NFL's version of redshirted.
So yes, you'd create cap space by cutting Tyron. But you'd also have to spend way more than $5.5 million to replace him with an adequate starting left tackle, or you'd be taking the huge gamble of hoping a quality starter falls to you in the 2022 Draft.
What's really perplexing with Smith's contract is that he's now a bargain compared to his peers. While Trent Williams, David Bakhtiari, and Laremy Tunsil are all making $22-$23 million annually, Tyron is currently averaging just $12.2 million on the long-term contract he signed back in 2014. He's only the 23rd-most expensive tackle in the NFL going into the offseason.
Even with a scheduled 2022 cap hit of $17.5 million a healthy Smith can still be a steal for the Cowboys.
That's the issue; health! Can Tyron keep the chronic issues at bay for at least one last season and reward Dallas' loyalty? And depending on their faith in his availability going forward, has that loyalty finally run out?
I know it feels like you read this same article every offseason, but until the issue goes away then it's an annual talking point. Tyron Smith is still eating up a lot of cap space and spending way too much time at home or on the sideline during the season. It's a problem the Cowboys have to contend with this year, and every year, until its resolved.