News of Tyron Smith's major leg injury and a 3-4 month absence has been rocking Cowboys Nation for the last two days. While there's hope that Dallas' starting left tackle could return in December, or at least for the playoffs, one can't help but wonder if we'll ever see Tyron play another snap for the Cowboys.
This isn't meant to sensationalize Smith's injury or the left tackle situation. There are legitimate reasons why Tyron may not come back on the timetable that's been suggested. If this does prove to be a season-ending injury, it's entirely realistic that Dallas may not have him back in 2023.
First, let's look at this season. It sounds like the best-case scenario has Tyron returning for the last 5-6 games of the 2022 season. The first December game is on the 4th, the Week 13 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football.
But that point the Cowboys will have played 11-12 games with whoever their replacement plan is at left tackle. Whether it's Tyler Smith, Terence Steele, Josh Ball, Matt Waletzko, or a free agent TBD, that player will have had three months of experience and chemistry-building with the starters.
Let's say it's Tyler Smith. Supposedly the future at LT, what if Tyler quickly takes to the role and the offense is humming along nicely? Would the Cowboys risk breaking that rhythm just to get Tyron Smith back on the field for a few games?
While Tyler Smith presents a unique case for investing in the future, that same basic logic applies to the other options as well. If the Cowboys do bring in someone over the next week or two, depending on who it is and what they give up to acquire him, how quick will they be to send him to the bench?
The long-term view plays into this decision heavily. Tyron turns 32 in December and is nearing a critical decision point in his contract. Dallas can clear about $9.5 million in cap space in 2023 if Smith is released outright, which given his injury issues now feels more like an eventuality than a possibility.
Even if the Cowboys are willing to keep working with Smith the feeling may not be mutual. Tyron will have been battling injuries for seven seasons and especially since 2020. He may simply be done with that fight and choose to retire.
While 32 isn't necessarily old for offensive linemen, Smith entered the NFL in 2011 and has been a full-time starter from the jump. He's clearly breaking down from the mileage now.
Plus, one of Tyron's closest associates was the now-retired Travis Frederick. While Frederick's early retirement after 2019 was forced by a different kind of medical issue, no doubt it's given Smith some thoughts about how long he needs to keep playing.
Whether it's as a cap casualty or retiree, Tyron Smith feels like an impending departure. If the end is truly nigh, Dallas will be incentivized to keep investing reps and experience opportunities in next year's potential left tackle now.
Of course, other injuries or issues on the offensive line could develop by December. This discussion is based solely on the current reality and the hope that the rest of the line stays intact this season.
It's entirely possible that Tyler Smith or whoever else is tried at LT won't pass muster, leaving us all anxiously hoping for Tyron's return later this year. But that scenario would mean some real issues for the next three months and the majority of the regular season.
In a way, it's in the Cowboys' best interests if we never see Tyron Smith again. It means that whatever moves are made now to replace him have worked out and left the offense solvent, if not better, for 2022 and beyond.
That may sound harsh but football is a harsh game. Unfortunately, a business decision that was already coming next offseason may have simply been moved up the calendar.