November 12th, 2017. Do you remember that day? Let me give you a few hints.
Byron Bell. Chaz Green. Adrian Clayborn.
Ohhh that disaster. Yes, that was the disaster in Atlanta when Green and Bell gave up six sacks to Reggie White…I mean Adrian Clayborn.
Clayborn’s performance was an Atlanta Falcon single game record. Only Derrick Thomas (7) recorded more sacks in a single game when he did so back in 1990 against the Seattle Seahawks. For further perspective, Clayborn has 31 career sacks in his 8th NFL season.
It was a disaster that showed the value of Tyron Smith. Smith was absent that game with back and groin injuries. The Cowboys All-Pro left tackle has been plagued by injuries as of late, missing parts of both 2017 and 2016 season. Particularly, a bad back is never good for 27-year old offensive lineman.
For the record, I am not comparing Smith to his counterparts. Smith has started well over 100 games since being drafted by the team in 2011 and is a five-time pro bowler.
Byron Bell is in Green Bay. Chaz Green, free agent. Tyron Smith is here.
Point being, the left tackle position is paramount to the success of a team. Smith has not looked like the anchor that helped DeMarco Murray or Ezekiel Elliot lead the NFL in rushing.
An example occurred last week in the Cowboys loss to the Washington Redskins. On an early third down, Smith was beaten on a speed rush by Preston Smith. The Redskins linebacker got low and parallel to the line-of-scrimmage, causing the tackle to look late out of his stance. As the play continued, Tyron’s hands appeared to slide across the linebackers chest. The combination of the two resulted in a hook around Smith’s neck and a holding penalty.
The play negated a run by Dak Prescott, but also likely prevented a sack. Granted, these issues seem to show up more on the road. The unit’s chemistry can be often be hindered on snap or silence counts that put an offensive tackle at a disadvantage.
Is it entirely Tyron Smith? No, of course not.
Travis Frederick is on IR with an autoimmune disease, Zack Martin has an MCL sprain, and Connor Williams is a rookie. They faced a defensive line with J.J. Watt and stunts from the physical freak that is Jadeveon Clowney. It is worth adding the Cowboys tutelage with this unit is being run by Paul Alexander, who is in his first year with the team.
The difference is the contract.
Smith is in an eight-year deal paying him nearly $110 million dollars($40 million guaranteed). That contract pays him on average of $12.2 million dollars through 2023, when Tyron is 33 years old. Heading into the season, that would make Smith the 7th-highest paid tackle in terms of average annual value (AAV). Smith does have a potential out in his deal after 2020.
Looking at it that way, it does not seem to be all that bad. After all, have you seen the way Nate Solder has played for the Giants lately? Eli Manning is on pace to be sacked 55 times. With his mobility, Prescott can pick up an offensive line struggling with communication or flat out raw play.
However, the longevity of the contract is the cause for concern. Can the value of play Smith has shown during his pro bowl days continue through 2023?
That is the question fans and Cowboy’s brass should think about. What is not a question is the play of this unit will be vital in determining if this team will make the playoffs this year. Tyron Smith is a massive part of that equation.
Time will tell, but it is worth keeping an eye on.