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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.