National Football League
Cowboys plan to bring back Tyron Smith; what could that mean for offensive line?
National Football League

Cowboys plan to bring back Tyron Smith; what could that mean for offensive line?

Updated Feb. 28, 2023 4:52 p.m. ET

Offensive-line depth is crucial, and it's hard to come by — as the Cowboys have learned in excruciating fashion these last few years. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, then, to learn that they'll do what's necessary to keep theirs in place for 2023.

"The biggest takeaway from our meetings was you can't have enough of these guys," Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones told reporters Tuesday at the NFL Combine.

Specifically at offensive tackle, the Cowboys stretched their depth to its very limit last season. Longtime left tackle Tyron Smith injured his knee on the last day of training camp and was sidelined until December. Right as Smith returned to the field, right tackle Terence Steele suffered a torn ACL on Dec. 11, throwing the lineup into disarray.

By the time the season was over, rookie guard Tyler Smith had played left tackle and left guard, with Tyron Smith flopping to right tackle and emergency veteran signing Jason Peters filling in where needed.


That saga doesn't even include Tyron Smith's laundry list of other injuries, which have sidelined him from 66% of the Cowboys' games the last three years.

Those struggles with availability are the root of the speculation about the elder Smith's future. Playing out the final years of the eight-year extension he signed all the way back in 2014, Smith is scheduled to make $13.6 million and count $17.6 million against the salary cap in 2023.

When Smith is healthy, that's a bargain. It's just that the Cowboys haven't been able to count on his health for quite some time. It speaks to his skill level that the Cowboys' front office is still willing to carry that cap charge — though Jones acknowledged that the cost of the contract could be re-visited in the coming weeks. "We can always do reworks and things of that nature," he said. "That could come up with him … but right now, we're comfortable where we are."

Obviously, Smith would have to be open to a new deal, but a reworked contract would give the team more cap space heading into free agency. Just last year, the front office agreed to a reworked deal with DeMarcus Lawrence that gave the Pro Bowl pass rusher additional guarantees while lowering his cap figure. Perhaps something similar is in Smith's future, though it's interesting to note that Jones said he's comfortable with the current situation. 

At the very least, the rest of the puzzle is fairly straightforward, not to mention affordable. Originally an undrafted free agent, Steele is about to be a restricted free agent. In order to keep him in place for another year, the Cowboys need only to apply a first- or second-round tender on him which would lock him in on either a $4 million or $6 million contract. If that wasn't good enough news, Jones acknowledged Tuesday that the 25-year-old is on track for the 2023 season.

"He's doing unbelievable with his rehab," Jones told reporters. "He's done as well as anybody that we've ever had in terms of his rehab and his diligence. We don't expect any hiccups there."

Peters signed last September for roughly $2 million. With Peters entering his 19th NFL season, it feels like a safe bet the Cowboys will be able to retain him if they want to — assuming he wants to play another season.

If anything, the Cowboys' biggest challenge might be figuring out what to do with some many capable options. Just last year, Tyler Smith was drafted to be the Cowboys' left tackle of the future, but he looks an awful lot like the left tackle of the present, given how well he handled the job last year. Tyron Smith has built a Hall of Fame resume at left tackle, but the Cowboys may now be faced with a choice between the veteran and the protégé. The one given at this point seems to be that Steele primarily plays on the right side.

Does it make more sense to kick Tyler Smith inside to left guard, allowing Tyron Smith to resume left tackle duties? Or might Tyron settle for a swing tackle role, flipping between the left and right side as needed?

Those are problems for the spring and summer. But, as the Cowboys have learned over the years, they're good problems to have.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing "Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion" about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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