For years, Tyron Smith has manhandled defenders as they’ve flopped and flailed in their pursuits of his ball-carrying teammates when matched up against him. The 6’ 5”, 320-lb behemoth of a man has haunted opponent pregame nightmares for some time now, and it’s been his consistent otherworldly dominance that will likely catapult him into a grandiose gold bust that’s as extravagant as his own legendary lore.
Just one look at his hands is the only sample size you’ll need to understand how he’s been able to so fluently control enemy D-linemen – they’re absolutely gargantuan, and he could probably hoist and fireman carry a few lighter foes with just one of them.
But while Smith’s palm-fighting fortitude and arm strength have withstood the test of Father Time, some of his complementary attributes, especially those dealing with his lower body, have slowly begun to wither away.
He entered the NFL as a unicorn of sorts – an unseen combination of skill, fleet-footedness, and vigor that scouts completely drooled over when he came out of USC.
Dallas was able to snatch him up with the ninth overall selection in 2011, thus marking the re-ignition of the “Great Wall of Dallas” that originally bulldozed holes for Emmitt Smith during the 90’s (Tyron Smith was Jerry Jones’ initial first-round offensive lineman selection since purchasing the team in 1989; he would go on to take two more in Travis Frederick and Zack Martin over the next three years).
The trio of Smith, Martin and Frederick formed a Hall-of-Fame worthy three-headed monster with 18 combined Pro Bowls between them, and paved the way for litanies of 1,000-yard rush seasons from various sources: including Demarco Murray, Darren McFadden and Ezekiel Elliott.
Now, these aforementioned tailbacks were competent yard-crunchers no doubt, but the line, led by Smith’s versatility, Frederick’s acumen, and Martin’s rugged doggedness, remained the steady force behind Dallas’ highly-potent offensive production for nearly a decade.
But injuries and illness have ravaged each of their NFL tenures.
Frederick recently retired after dealing with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare nerve-debilitating immune system deficiency. Martin has battled various concussions, and just went down with a season-ending calf strain this past December. And Smith has quite possibly had the worst incumbent bout with injuries of them all, ones that have plagued him long before the former two began to experience shortcomings.
They’re too innumerable for his hands to even count: a cervical neck fracture in 2020, two cervical neck injuries in ‘18, a knee patella strain (IR listed) in Dec. 2017, an inguinal groin strain the previous month, a lumbar lower back strain the month before that, an MCL injury in late ‘16, a vertebral disc bulge earlier that year, an ankle sprain in ‘14, another in ‘12, and a knee strain in Sep. 2011.
Smith’s most recent neck ailment kept him sidelined for the majority of 2020, and while his playing ability last year remained unquestioned, his potency for ‘21 has Dallas’ jury in furious deliberation.
He’s still under contract with the team until 2023, and is primed to rake in $10.5 million total next season. That is, of course, if Dallas chooses to refrain from restructuring the sum, and keep him in his starting role.
The team has some massive decisions to make in the wake of Sunday’s Super Bowl aftermath and start of the offseason. Aside from the man who’s governed the most contractual news headlines, they may not have a bigger choice to make than the one regarding the largest offensive line representative on the active roster.
So should they trust that he’ll be healthy for ‘21, or start to think about throwing their eggs in alternative baskets?