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?
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.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
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.
Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?
Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.
A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?
Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.
What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?
Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.
But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.
This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.
Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.
What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?
Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.
What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.
Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.
The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.
One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.
Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.
You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.
And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.
Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.
However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
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