While many parts of the Dallas Cowboys’ 2020 roster need some makor work this offseason, the all-important offensive line thankfully isn’t one of them. But while all of last year’s starters are under contract for next season, some of the key depth options are not. Such is the case at offensive tackle.
The Cowboys boast one of the best pair of book ends in the NFL. Tyron Smith is still one of the top left tackles in the game and Right Tackle La’el Collins emerged as an elite player last season.
Neither is cheap, of course. Smith counts about $13.5 million against the 2020 salary cap and Collins is close to $9 million. But for the roles they play and as well as they perform, Dallas is happy to carry those cap hits.
2020 Offensive Tackle Contract Statuses
- Tyron Smith
- La’el Collins
- Brandon Knight
- Mitch Hyatt
- Wyatt Miller
- Free Agents
- Cameron Fleming (TO)
TO = Team Option
The biggest issue at offensive tackle in 2020 is the decision on veteran backup Cam Fleming. The Cowboys need to decide if they want pick up his option year or let him become a free agent.
If Dallas exercises the option, Fleming will count about $5.2 million against the salary cap. That is expensive for any backup on the offensive line, even the swing tackle. It would more than double Cam’s cap hit from last season.
Letting Fleming walk may be a bit easier thanks to the emergence of Brandon Knight as a backup tackle. He had to start one game last year due to an injury to La’el Collins and performed well.
That said, playing Right Tackle is a different task from the left side. Would Dallas trust Knight to protect Dak Prescott‘s blind side?
While Tyron Smith did have a strong year in 2019 he also missed three games, which is the new normal for him. Given that he hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2015, the Cowboys have to have a solid backup option in place.
Dallas could work out a different agreement with Fleming, not picking up his option year but instead agreeing to a multi-year deal at lower salary. Cam might prefer that security over trying to find work on the open free agent market.
On the other hand, the Cowboys could just go into the market themselves to find some other veteran option.
That isn’t to say that Fleming would be easily replaced. He’s still just 27 and has a lot of experience, starting 26 games over the last six years. He has postseason experience as a starter during his time with the Patriots.
One player of intrigue is Mitch Hyatt, who spent most of 2019 on the practice squad. He came into the NFL as a two-time National Champion and All-American from his years playing left tackle at Clemson but lacked the strength to contribute as a rookie in the NFL.
Dallas liked the raw material enough to keep Hyatt around for development. If his body is now ready for the pros, could Mitch compete for the swing tackle role in 2020?
The Cowboys might be willing to go into training camp with a mix of cheap, young options like Hyatt, Bryandon Knight, and others for competition. They could then look to veteran free agents, perhaps waiting until final cuts, to find their swing tackle if nobody emerges from the pack.
Dallas has until the start of free agency, March 18th, to make their decision on Cam Fleming’s option year. But if they decide to punt on him at the start of the offseason, Fleming’s starting experience will likely get him snatched up by another team. He’s not a player I expect they could come back around to later in the summer.
It sounds like a lot of worry over a backup job, but that’s indicative how important the offensive tackles are. We have seen what happens when play breaks down at either spot; the offense tends to break down right along with them.
So while I don’t think paying Fleming $5 million is the right solution for 2020, I also am not going to take an alternative option lightly. Whether it’s working out a cheaper deal with Cam or investing in some other backup, Dallas needs a reliable swing tackle in place for as long as Tyron Smith remains on the roster.
Frankly, even after Tyron is long gone, swing tackle will always be one of the most important backup positions on the team. We shouldn’t take it for granted, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to this offseason.