Why return of 8-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith gives Cowboys flexibility on O-line

The Dallas Cowboys restructured the contract of offensive tackle Tyron Smith to keep him with the team for 2023. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

FRISCO, Texas -- Not long after saying goodbye to one of the best running backs in franchise history, Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys kept one of their best offensive lineman in franchise history by re-working the contract of eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith. The move guarantees Smith will play a 13th season for the Cowboys.

But in what role?

Does he reclaim the left tackle spot Tyler Smith held for most of 2022? Does he continue at right tackle, where he played last season after Terence Steele suffered a knee injury? Does he become the swing tackle if Steele’s rehab goes well?

The answer could be yes to all three.

By keeping Tyron Smith, the Cowboys have given themselves options they would not have had without him. And they very likely would have had to add a tackle in free agency or the draft, if not both.

When the Cowboys drafted Tyler Smith in the first round last year, it was with the idea of him being the left tackle of the future. Then Tyron Smith suffered a hamstring injury in training camp that required surgery and kept him out for the first 13 games of the season.

Tyler Smith flourished.

“I don't know if Tyler Smith can play any better as a rookie,” coach Mike McCarthy said from the NFL scouting combine. “I don't know how the awards shook out, but for him to accomplish what he accomplished.

"You know, I saw Will Shields go in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993. I don't think he came out for 16 years. So that's a comparable I have for him, because what he did this year playing two positions, I think is unbelievable. So he's got a great foundation.”

The Cowboys lost last year’s starting left guard, Connor McGovern, in the first wave of free agency to the Buffalo Bills. Next season, they could slide Tyler Smith to guard, where he started in the wild-card win against the Buccaneers.

Tyron Smith wasn't as effective at right tackle (where he last played as a rookie in 2011) as he was at left tackle. But with the need after Steele’s injury, he volunteered to play on the right side. If the Cowboys don’t want to move Tyler Smith, then having a full offseason of playing right tackle should help Tyron Smith feel more comfortable.

And it could also alleviate the pressure on Steele to return. While executive vice president Stephen Jones said Steele is ahead of schedule in his rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Cowboys know it takes time for a player to feel comfortable in his return (See: wide receiver Michael Gallup).

If everybody is healthy and ready to go, then new offensive line coach Mike Solari will have a good decision to make: play his best five players.

A reminder: Tyron Smith has not played a full season since 2015.

That’s part of the reason why the Cowboys wanted to re-work Tyron Smith’s contract. He was set to make $13.6 million in the final year of his contract and count $17.6 million against the salary cap. With the changes, Smith’s base salary will drop, but he will be able to make up the money depending on how much he plays in 2023.

During McCarthy’s tenure as coach, Smith has played in just 17 of a possible 50 regular-season games. He played in four games in 2022. He missed six games in 2021 because of an ankle injury and a stint on the COVID list. A neck injury limited him to two games in 2020.

Smith, 32, is an eight-time Pro Bowl pick. The only offensive lineman with more in team history is Hall of Famer Larry Allen (10).

The move ensures Smith will finish out the eight-year contract extension he signed in 2014. It also ensures the Cowboys will have options.