FRISCO, Texas -- The draft is over. Free agency is mostly over, although there is always a possibility of adding somebody. The trade market never closes.
So, who will be the Dallas Cowboys’ left guard?
Is it free agent addition Chuma Edoga? Could the Cowboys move last season's right tackle, Terence Steele, who is rehabbing from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee? Might one of the young reserves the past couple of years, Matt Farniok or Josh Ball, be ready for full-time duty?
All would have to be in the mix, but the best option might be their first-round pick from a year ago, Tyler Smith.
“I’m like, ‘Just tell me where to go, and I’ll go,’” Smith recently told ESPN. “I’m ready to go wherever I can to contribute. I’m just ready to keep improving.”
When the Cowboys selected Smith, the idea was to let him work at left guard while knowing he is the left tackle of the future. Then Tyron Smith suffered a hamstring injury that required surgery at the end of training camp and Tyler Smith became the left tackle of the present.
He started all but one regular-season game at left tackle, with Tyron Smith moving to Steele’s spot after his return to action.
“I don't know if Tyler Smith can play any better as a rookie,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I don't know how the awards shook out, but for him to accomplish what he accomplished. … You know, I saw (Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer) Will Shields go in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993, and 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.”
Tyler Smith started at left guard in the regular-season finale and wild-card playoff win against the Buccaneers. He moved back to left tackle for the divisional round game against the San Francisco 49ers after Jason Peters was hurt.
This offseason, several members of the organization said the preference is for Tyler Smith to remain at tackle, including owner and general manager Jerry Jones. Speaking on 105.3 The Fan during the draft, new offensive line coach Mike Solari said Tyler Smith is a tackle.
Before selecting Asim Richards in the fifth round of the draft, Jones was at least wondering if Tyler Smith should be in play at guard.
“I think [position] flex here. When you get down to the reality of it, we need to be ready for it because we’ve got a couple on the mend, and then Tyron, and you’ve got to look at what the history has been here,” Jones said. “So we need numbers. We need the flex. Tyler’s shown he can flex. But we think Steele can flex, and a couple of those young guys can flex in there too.”
Tyron Smith was set to make $13.6 million this season but agreed to rework his contract with a $3 million bonus and a $3 million base salary that was guaranteed. He can earn up to $11 million more in playing-time and playoff incentives. But he has not played a full season since 2015 and has played in just 17 of the 50 regular-season games McCarthy has coached with the Cowboys.
Steele joined the Cowboys in 2020 as an undrafted free agent and has been one of their best finds. He has never played guard and could be tasked with learning a new spot with limited practice time because of his rehab. Edoga has limited starting experience in four NFL seasons with the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons. Ball played tackle his first two seasons and might be fighting for a roster spot. At the moment, Farniok is also the backup center.
All of those questions bring it back to Tyler Smith. If Tyron Smith is healthy and if Steele’s rehab goes well -- two big 'ifs' by the time the season rolls around -- Tyler Smith could be the best option.
“Evolving is a huge thing in Year 2,” Smith said. “I’ve been blessed to play a lot of games and get an understanding for the game, understanding the speed of the game. Things start to slow down. NFL speed is different than college speed. It’s just the truth. Once you get some years up under you, the game starts to slow down and you start making strides in technique and understanding what the defense is trying to do. I definitely kind of think that Year 2 jump is there.”
A year ago at this time, the Cowboys were calling Tyler Smith a “left-sided player.” Last spring, he split time between guard and tackle. In training camp before Tyron Smith’s injury, he played only left guard.
The 12 months went by quickly.
“It was a blur,” he said. “Just going through that year, finish the season, bowl game, pre-draft prep, to the draft, rookie minicamp, OTAs, camp, the season, all these other things, it really goes by faster. You’re excited while you’re in it. It’s highly competitive days, a long season, but afterwards you look back when you have a minute to process things that happen over time and it feels like, ‘Dang, man, that was fast.’”
Starting in mid-February this year, he was a regular at the captains’ workouts at The Star, although he took a little time off, traveling to the Bahamas, New York and California. He was recognized a few times in the Bahamas.
“They are big Dallas fans in the islands,” he said.
With the Cowboys in Phase 2 of the offseason program, he has been ever-present at the facility.
“One thing about it is, just after seeing where I was after my first year has me excited for what the future holds,” he said. “The work never stops.”