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Tyron Smith: Do Cowboys have “Worst Case” Outs for His Contract?

John Williams

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Tyron Smith
Louis DeLuca / The Dallas Morning News

We're in one of the worst times of the calendar year for football. The time between OTAs and minicamps and when training camp begins on July 25th. As the Dallas Cowboys inch closer to the 2018 season, it's safe to say that Tyron Smith's back situation is on the minds of many in Cowboys Nation.

Tyron Smith, an All-Pro Left Tackle and one of the best in the game, had been the picture of health. He missed only one game in the first five seasons of his career. At one of the most physically demanding positions in the NFL, that is a really great track record.

He's been worth the draft capital and dollars spent as the ninth overall pick 2011. Smith's been the alpha -- the beginning and the lead dog -- as the organization worked to make the team in the image of the Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys of the 90s.

We can't overstate how good Tyron Smith is. He is worth his contract.

Both of those two things that I just wrote are true statements, and yet a question lingers in the back of our minds. Is Tyron Smith's injury troubles, in particular his back, something to be concerned about for the future?

Make no mistake, I believe that you'd rather have Tyron Smith at 13 games a season vs zero games a season, but if the health struggles become more than that, tough questions will have to be asked.

But maybe those questions won't ever have to be asked. Hopefully Tyron returns to his 16 game a season form as he leads the Dallas Cowboys' dominant rushing attack into eternity, but over the last two seasons he missed two games and three games to injury, respectfully, and in 2017 never seemed quite right.

Smith's Contract: What Options do Cowboys Have for the Future?

As we know, long-term deals for Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence are waiting in the wings, so even if Tyron is on the team, there may need to be some restructuring that takes place.

Before we get any further, let me be clear that this isn't a "Dallas Cowboys should cut Tyron Smith article." It's just an evaluation for if it becomes a necessity.

If Tyron continues to play more than 75% of games, he's worth every penny of his contract. Yes, you'd prefer to have him for 16, but like I stated earlier, 13 games of Tyron is better than no Tyron.

Dallas Cowboys: Ranking Top 5 Most Indispensable Players 2

Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith (AP Photo/James D Smith)

Notes On Tyron Smith's Contract

First, we should note that Tyron Smith took a really cheap guaranteed amount compared to his contemporaries. Of the total value of his $97-million contract, only $22 million of it was guaranteed. New York Giants Left Tackle Nate Solder, who just signed his deal this offseason, signed a contract shorter in length and got $34 million guaranteed. His $15 million a year average annual salary is about $3 million more than Tyron.

Tyron is a discount at his current price.

Second, Tyron's deal runs out after the 2023 season, meaning he has six-years remaining on his contract that will take him through his age 33 season. If the Dallas Cowboys don't restructure his contract anymore, then his guaranteed money will run out after 2021. So, if the Dallas Cowboys felt they needed to move on from him after the '21 season, they would have zero penalties against their cap moving forward in 2021 and beyond.

** An aside. It feels really weird to be talking about the year 2020 and beyond. Seems like only yesterday we turned the clock on the 90s, but I digress.

His contract counts almost 10% of the Dallas Cowboys cap for the 2018 season, but that percentage hold will decrease as the cap continues to grow, even as his base salary increases.

Release Savings

According to OverTheCap.com, over the next two years, it would make little sense to make Tyron Smith a pre-June 1st cut. In 2018 and 2019, you'd actually have more dead money on the cap than you would cap savings. Not until the 2020 season would you be able to cut Tyron and have a greater savings on the cap than dead money hold.

As a post-June 1st cut however, starting in 2019, you can save $10 million on the cap while having a $5-million dead money hit. In 2020, the dead money decreases to $3 million while you still save $10 million on the cap. In 2021, the dead money is a little more than $1 million, with a little more than $10 million in cap savings.

Again, not to be redundant, I'm not advocating a release of Tyron, just laying out the information for the sake of the overall team, should it come to that. Every game we should be thankful for the contract that Tyron Smith signed for the Dallas Cowboys. It really is a cap friendly deal beyond 2018.

Restructure Savings

I'd say it's unlikely that we see the Dallas Cowboys restructure his contract in the future, because they have some outs if he begins to miss more games than he has the last two seasons, but if there is a return to health and they decide they need more cap room, then a restructure remains an option.

Restructuring Tyron Smith's Contract isn't something that anyone would recommend at the moment, but in the football world, things can change. If you need another $7 million or so on the cap, flipping the switch and restructuring Tyron could help get more talent under the cap.

It's possible that DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott sign long-term contracts in the 2019 season and, though the Dallas Cowboys don't need the money to get them under the cap, if they wanted to go free agent shopping, a Tyron restructure would help.

We know this front office loves to pay today's bills with tomorrow's money and so a restructure could be in his plans.

Again, a restructure at this juncture wouldn't be recommended, but if Dallas sees an opportunity to get that final piece under contract, then it remains a possibility.

Offensive lineman can typically play at high levels into their mid-30s, so getting value out of Tyron Smith through the end of his contract isn't a stretch of the imagination.

Remember, Philadelphia Eagles' Left Tackle Jason Peters made the Pro Bowl every year from age 31-35 and was a First-Team All-Pro selection at age 31.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

When Tyron Smith is on the field, he's one of the best in the game. He's a dominant pass blocker, and his physicality and athleticism in the run game have helped the Dallas Cowboys have two different running backs lead the league in rushing yards over the last four seasons.

All reports are that Tyron feels the best he has in years. That's encouraging news and we should be optimistic about his play in 2018.

** All salary and salary cap figures taken from OverTheCap.com.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Linebacker

Jess Haynie

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Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

The linebacker position went from liability to luxury in 2018, thanks largely to the emergence of a pair of dynamic young talents. Now seen as one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, what questions remain for the linebackers as we await the start of the 2019 training camp?

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the nucleus now at linebacker, if not the the Cowboys' defense as a whole. The days of worrying if Sean Lee can stay healthy are over; we now have two players capable of elite play and the versatility to handle multiple spots.

Lee isn't gone; the longtime defensive captain accepted a pay cut and a lesser role to stay in Dallas this year. He is still expected to start in the base defense, moving to the strong-side LB role that Damien Wilson vacated.

Indeed, the top-three linebackers for 2019 are easy to project. Jaylon and Leighton are the new leaders and Sean will get as much playing time as his body can handle.

This year, which is unusual for reserve players, the second team is almost just as predictable.

Here's the projected Linebacker Depth Chart for the 2019 training camp:

  1. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee
  2. Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
  3. Kyle Queiro, Andrew Dowell, Luke Gifford, Nate Hall

There may not be a position on offense or defense with less x-factors than linebacker. Almost just as likely as the starters, Joe Thomas, Justin-March Lillard, and Chris Covington should have the second-team spots locked down.

Joe Thomas, Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas

Thomas is especially valuable, having the skills to step into a larger role if Sean Lee suffers from age or injury. If Lee were to go down, we might see Jaylon Smith move into the SAM spot and Thomas playing as WILL in the base defense.

Dallas re-signed Justin March-Lillard this offseason. He played in all 16 games last year as a backup and special teamer, and his experience will make him hard to oust.

Chris Covington was a 6th-round pick last year and has the body to play SAM but also experience at other spots in college. Dallas would love to see him grow into a larger role the way other recent 6th-rounders like Anthony Brown and Xavier Woods have.

One potential challenger could be Jalen Jelks, the 7th-round defensive end that Dallas just drafted last April. Jelks has the body and athleticism to play a hybrid LB/DE role, and could challenge as the backup SAM. We don't know if the Cowboys will give Jelks a chance at LB, but it may be the only way to keep him on the 53 given all the talent at defensive end.

It will be hard for any of the remaining LB prospects to work their way onto the roster. The top six have experience and upside that undrafted rookies will need to be exceptionally good to overcome. Only Kyle Queiro, who was on the practice squad last year, brings a little NFL experience to the table.

Of course, unexpected things can happen. The talent margin between late-round picks and undrafted guys can be slim; who knows if one of these prospects pushes March-Lillard or Covington out of the way?

But barring a surprise, we already have a good idea who the Cowboys' six linebackers will be in 2019. Will this year's training camp solidify that projection, or will we get some new evidence to consider?

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”

John Williams

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Did a Year Away Help Rejuvenate TE Jason Witten's Game?

There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.

Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?

It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.

"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason  (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."

Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW

Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.

Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.

While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.

In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.

They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.

Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.

There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.

If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.

And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.



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Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options

Matthew Lenix

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Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options

The Dallas Cowboys find themselves facing an interesting situation heading into training camp later this month. They've stockpiled enough talent on the offensive line that now they have multiple players who can play multiple positions. This is better known as "Position Flex" around the Cowboys team facility, and it's highlighted by Connor Williams and rookie Connor McGovern.

Williams was drafted in the second round in 2018 out of Texas. Even though he logged 28 starts at left tackle during his days in Austin, he was brought in to play left guard opposite All-Pro Zack Martin. As a rookie, he started the first eight games before suffering a knee injury Week 10 against the Titans. He struggled due to his smaller size and being a natural tackle, showing he definitely needed to bulk up if he wanted to start on the interior of the offensive line. His back up Xavier Su'a-Filo was serviceable in his absence.

However, he did start two games at right guard in place of Zack Martin and performed pretty decent. This gave him much-needed experience in case of an injury in the future. He's shown he can adjust and be a solid lineman at more than one spot.

When All-Pro Tyron Smith had veterans day off during OTAs, Williams was seen taking snaps at left tackle, his natural position. La'el Collins is the starter at right tackle but is currently in a contract year. Set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and with uncertainty, that he'll perform to the level needed to keep him as the starter or garner a big payday, the Cowboys have some insurance. This could create a situation where Williams is flexed outside if Collins hits the open market next year, only time will tell.

Position Flex of Connor Williams, Connor McGovern Gives the Cowboys Options 1

McGovern comes into the NFL with an advantage over his fellow lineman Williams. He was able to gain experience at multiple positions on the offensive line at Penn State. He started 21 games at right guard (9 as a freshman, 12 as a junior) and 14 games at center (13 as a sophomore, 1 as a junior). He's ideal to play on the interior seeing as he is naturally a little bigger than Williams, who had to pack on the pounds this offseason to deal with the responsibility of playing guard.

Now, the Cowboys can really see, if this is their thinking, who the five best guys are on the offensive line. If it were up to me, I would put Williams in direct competition with Collins for the right tackle position. This would allow McGovern to battle Su'a-Filo for the left guard spot. Also, with the health of All-Pro Center Travis Fredrick still up in the air, until the pads come on, McGovern's flexibility has added more insurance along with back up Joe Looney in case there's a setback before the season starts.

Multiple players with the skill set to move across the line if called upon. What more could you ask for as an offensive line coach? Plus, neither will be over the age of 22 during the season. The Cowboys have masterfully built the line of scrimmage on offense through the draft since 2011. Their dedication to dominating the trenches has them loaded with talent in said area. The only thing left is to wait for training camp to see where the chips fall.



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