Tyron Smith is about to play his 10th season in the NFL and is one of the longest-tenured players on the Cowboys' roster. But even as he combats age and chronic injuries, Smith remains one of Dallas' most valuable assets. In fact, that value has been increasing in recent years.
The 1st-Round pick in 2011, Tyron was the first player drafted after Jason Garrett became head coach and kicked off a new era of Cowboys football. He marked the beginning of a philosophical change in prioritizing the offensive linemen that has steadily continued for the last decade.
Smith has been one of the gold standards for left tackles during this run, having gone to the last seven Pro Bowls and being named to multiple All-Pro teams. It was no surprise when, back in 2014, the Cowboys gave Tyron a massive 8-year, $98 million extension on his contract. At the time it was the richest deal that Dallas had ever paid to a non-quarterback.
Unfortunately, we've seen too many beloved players not see the end of their lucrative contracts. In recent years we've watched DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and others all get released before their deals ended.
While Romo's case was a bit unusual, the story on Ware, Bryant, and others was all pretty much the same. When a player's value on the field stops being commensurate to his cost against the salary cap, teams often have to cut him loose to compete.
There's been a little concern that Tyron Smith could be a cap casualty the last few years. While he is still one of the better left tackle in the game, he's missed 12 games over the last four seasons and been hampered by back, neck, and shoulder issues at various points.
But in Smith's case, different from his former teammates, his contract is structured in a way that has makes him harder to part with.
The salary cap hits on most long-term deals moderately increase every season. However, Tyron's contract was designed in a way that his cap number has been going down the last few years.
After peaking at over $17.6 million against the cap in 2018, Smith counted just $15.5 million last year and will drop again to $13.5 in 2020. According to Over The Cap, this makes Tyron only the 8th-most expensive left tackle in football this season.
When you see the top guys on that list counting $18-$19 million against their teams' caps, you quickly see how Tyron Smith has suddenly become a bargain for the Cowboys. His level of play may have declined a little but he's much closer to those players in performance than the financial disparity would suggest.
The length of the contract, which doesn't expire until after 2023, works in Dallas' favor here. Tyron's base salary goes up from $10 million to $13.5 million in 2022. He'll be in his early 30s and probably doesn't want to risk that long-term security trying to get an immediate increase.
It's one of the rare times that a contract on an aging player still appears mutually beneficial.
Of course, Smith's cap hit remaining in the $12-$13 range will always keep him in the cap casualty crosshairs. Dallas can get $10.5 million in cap relief if they release Tyron after this season and then have no dead money to worry about in the final two years of the deal.
But while the contract was a record-breaker in its day, the natural inflation of NFL salaries has since made it a bargain. As long as Tyron Smith remains one of the better tackles in the game then the Cowboys should be able to keep justifying his cap hit and working around it.