It is no longer a “what if.” The Dallas Cowboys will be without their All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith for the majority, if not all, of the 2022 season due to a tendon tearing loose in his knee during practice on Wednesday. This situation was one of the most likely to happen to the team because Smith has not played a full season since 2015. It was obvious that the previous eleven years of anchoring the left side of the Cowboys’ offensive line were taking their inevitable toll. Now the staff in Dallas has to find a solution for Smith’s prolonged absence, or even a permanent departure if he should decide this is enough and hang it up.
We discussed this idea in greater detail on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Clearly the immediate situation is the main worry. Frustratingly, it is something that many of us have been begging for the team to address ever since they decided to release La’el Collins and promote former swing tackle Terence Steele to the starting role on the right side. But all the brain trust did to directly address this during the offseason was spend a fifth-round pick on Matt Waletzko as their focus was on left guard. There was basically an adamant refusal to go into the free agent market to try and provide some insurance for the swing tackle position. Instead, they put their hopes on Waltezko and second-year player Josh Ball to provide an answer for backing up Smith and Steele.
Waletzko was injured early in camp and just resumed practicing earlier this week, while Josh Ball has been at times underwhelming in his work. Outside of those two, the only other options are Aviante Collins, Amon Simon, and perhaps Isaac Alarcón. With Waltezko behind the curve due to his time off and Ball having struggles, Collins may have to be a bigger part of this situation than we would like. He has shown some potential so far, and may be even have moved ahead of Ball. However, he has worked primarily at right tackle, so things may default back to Ball on the other side.
Another way to approach the problem is probably more likely. First-round pick Tyler Smith has worked almost exclusively at left guard, but he played left tackle in college. With a little over two weeks to go before the regular season opener, the team can move him back to the outside and get him as ready as possible. Connor McGregor would become the starting left guard, which may not be as dire a situation as we once thought.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said if season began today, Connor McGovern would be starting left guard. Team still values McGovern’s versatility. Team theoretically could have McGovern at LG and flex him out to fullback in Mac subpackage with Tyler Smith filling in at LG. pic.twitter.com/0fBP8xKtTb— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 24, 2022
That would make Matt Farniok the primary backup guard, and possibly center as well. Braylon Smith and Alec Lindstrom are other candidates since the Cowboys usually carry five interior offensive linemen on the roster. Lindstrom has been dealing with his own injury issue during camp. Smith has seen a good bit of work at center, including nearly half the offensive snaps in the second preseason game.
That is one way to get a handle on the immediate problem of who starts on the offensive line. The depth issue is still troubling, to say the least. It seems a given that now is the time to look at every available free agent that could help as well as doing some homework on players that will likely hit the streets when everyone cuts down to 53 next week.
But the Cowboys are going to do it their way.
A person with knowledge of the Cowboys thinking said the team will look internally to determine who LT will be before looking outside.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 25, 2022
Admittedly, Tyler Smith may be as good an answer as any that can be found outside the roster. That still doesn’t fix the backup situation. There is at least a hint they are finally taking off the blinders about that.
Cowboys were exploring free agents and potential free agents at tackle before Tyron Smith tore left hamstring Wednesday. A difficult market this time of year. While team awaits more information, Smith's torn hamstring naturally adds urgency at spot, both externally and internally— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 25, 2022
It is indeed a difficult market this time of year. Much more difficult than it was when they released La’el Collins. More difficult than it was immediately after the draft. Somewhat more difficult than it was at the start of training camp. That is something that anyone with the most rudimentary grasp of the free agent market gets. Yet the Cowboys were content to sit on that nice, dry cap space rather than invest some of it in case of a rainy day.
The rains hit the city of Dallas hard earlier this week, and they came down on the team Wednesday night. Now the staff has to go into recovery mode, and they still are dragging their feet about using every tool available. If the season goes south for them, Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott will likely be blamed, and McCarthy could pay with his job. Yet the failure to adequately address tackle depth, along with other issues, falls mainly on Stephen Jones, who has the bulk of the responsibility determining who signs and for how much. For years now, he has behaved as if he is the smartest man in the room. He has a definitive blueprint for roster building, and one of the cornerstones is to spend the absolute minimum on free agents. One of the tactics involved is to sit back as long as possible in signing the free agents you are forced to acquire. The intent is to drive down the price, but it also comes with an inevitable decline in quality. You get what you pay for, and Jones only wants to pay for bargains.
It is frustrating because this very situation was one of the most predicted things all offseason. If it was inevitable, this is probably better in the sense of having a little time to adjust rather than having it happen after the season began. It still spotlights how close-minded and stubborn the management at The Star can be. With the implications for keeping Dak Prescott happy and sustaining the running game, the loss of Smith could well be the difference between Dallas being a playoff contender and an also ran. The failure is mostly on Stephen Jones but he will never pay the price for his mistakes. It will fall on others, and he will probably be the main one pointing fingers. That is the worst part of it all.