When you look at non-quarterback players on the Dallas Cowboys there is a clear and obvious one who’s presence means more to the team than most. Stephen Jones once referred to Ezekiel Elliott as the straw that stirs the drink, this isn’t exactly true anyway, but the drink is housed in the glass that is Tyron Smith. He is the foundation for everything.
Smith is not only an all-world tackle (obviously his health is the most important factor), but he is amazingly an insane bargain for the Cowboys on top of that. He and the Cowboys agreed to a massive extension back in 2014 that has seen him become one of the greatest values throughout the entire National Football League over time.
Recently ESPN actually put together a team comprised of the biggest values at every position across the league. It should come as no surprise that Smith was the group’s left tackle.
Offensive tackle: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Contract: Eight years, $97.6 million, expires after 2024 season
Smith’s deal belongs in the Team-friendly Contract Hall of Fame. Cowboys owner-operator Jerry Jones designed this financial perpetual motion machine way back in 2014 and immediately began tinkering with it, using Smith’s contract like a low-interest home equity loan whenever he needed to clear cap space.
The details and restructurings of this contract would baffle an economics professor, but the bottom line is simple: Smith has been playing for less than market value for half a decade, and his 2021 cap number is just $7.35 million, a pittance to pay for (when healthy) an All-Pro caliber left tackle.
It’s worth noting that Smith’s cap figure blossoms to $17.8 million next year, but Jones’ accountants will merely wave magic wands and tack more years to the end of the deal.
The Cowboys have gone back to Smith’s deal to create cap space a number of times since he first signed this deal in 2014 making it an even more insane bargain than it already is. Considering that he is paid well-below market rate even after the team has toyed with it to benefit the organization makes it a home run in every capacity.
Outside of Smith there aren’t a ton of great value contracts on the Cowboys relative to their positions across the league. Interestingly one of the cornerbacks on the team is a player who just left the team in Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
Cornerback: Chidobe Awuzie, Cincinnati Bengals
Contract: Three years, $21.7 million, $7.5 million guaranteed, expires after 2023 season
Awuzie looked like a rising star for the Cowboys before enduring an ugly, injury-marred 2020 season. Maybe he’s not as good as he looked in his first three seasons — or maybe he just got dragged down by the rest of the bumbling Cowboys defense last year. The Bengals scooped Awuzie up at a discount rate in free agency to find out.
Targeting young free agents coming off bad seasons in an offseason when few teams had money to spend is a sound strategy. Awuzie, like many of the veterans on this list (Lockett, Brockers, Andrews, Lawson, etc.), hit the free-agent market at the worst possible time. The Bengals are one of many teams that could reap the benefits for years to come.
This is certainly a hopeful description of where Awuzie’s game is at in our current moment. He played hard for the Cowboys and we all want to see him have success, but he didn’t necessarily play well enough to justify the second-round pick that the team spent on him four years ago.
Hopefully the Cowboys will see some other players wind up on this list in future years.