The front office of the Dallas Cowboys has been called a lot of things. Passive is one word that comes to mind. Cheapskate is another. Reckless, in the sense of rewarding lesser valued/more interchangeable positions with lucrative contract extensions (sorry Zeke and Jaylon), could also apply.
Despite all the criticism the organization has endured over the years, the team really seems to be making all the right moves so far this offseason. They made the emotionally tough, yet very necessary, decision to release seven-year veteran running back Ezekiel Elliott. We all know how much Jerry Jones loves Zeke, and how it must’ve been a tough pill for him to swallow in finally owning up to the mistake of signing Elliott to a big contract and not compounding that mistake by keeping him on the roster.
The team also retained the services of two key defenders in Leighton Vander Esch and Donovan Wilson. Most thought those guys had priced themselves out of Dallas, but the Cowboys retained them both with fair deals that each offer bonus incentives based on the number of games they’re active.
And speaking of a key defender, one of the front office’s most celebrated moves was to trade a fifth-round pick for proven vet corner Stephon Gilmore. The Cowboys now have a second outside corner that has gone from a position of weakness to a position of strength.
While each of these moves should be applauded for its own reasons, one of the front office’s smarter moves was to reconstruct the final year of Tyron Smith’s contract. The Tyron dilemma has been a tough one to get our minds around because, on the surface, we all want him on this roster. The youngsters Terence Steele and Tyler Smith have been fantastic, but we all know firsthand how important it is to have depth at one of the most crucial offensive positions. And considering Steele is coming off a bad knee injury, having another tackle in their back pocket is huge.
The problem, however, was that Tyron Smith carried a $13.6 million base salary this season and that amount could range from bargain to rip-off depending on how available the future Hall of Fame tackle is to his team. Early in his career, Smith was an availability ace, starting in all but one game over the first five years in the league. Then, he went on a four-year stretch where he missed exactly three games in each season. Then, once the big 3-0 hit, Smith’s health status took a turn for the worse as he has missed 33 of the 50 (67%) regular season games over the last three years. The best way to describe the paradox that is Tyron Smith is to check out his Pro Bowl seasons compared to the games played over his career. When he played, he played at a high level, but those instances are becoming fewer and far between (numbers below courtesy of Pro Football Reference).
If only the Cowboys could roll the dice on Smith’s health, but not be put through the wringer cap-wise if he gets hurt again and is unavailable to play. Well, thanks to the benefit of the financial wizardry of Stephen Jones, the Cowboys have done exactly that.
Instead of a $13.6 million base salary, how does a $3 million base sound? Throw in a $3 million signing bonus that can be spread out over three years and suddenly that minimum 2023 added cost drops from $13.6 million to just $6 million. But that’s $7.6 million less in Smith’s pocket, so why would he agree to that?
That’s where the clever negotiations, and a willingness from Smith, come in. The Cowboys constructed a new one-year deal that consists of additional bonuses that incrementally increase the more he’s on the field.
This extra cash will be squadoosh if he doesn’t play at least half the season, but could be as high as $9 million if he can reach 90% of the snaps.
But wait, it gets better for him. If he plays at least 75% of the regular season snaps and he and the Cowboys are in the postseason, Smith can earn another $500,000 per playoff win (contract details courtesy of Todd Archer). So, instead of Smith pocketing $13.6 million this season, he’ll pocket $6 million with a chance to make a total of $17 million.
The reason this is a brilliant re-configuration of his contract is that it gives the Cowboys the best of both worlds. They retain their tackle depth but are protected against injury, which as recent history indicates, is a huge risk. Not only are they protected against injury, but they are also protected against a decline in play. If the Cowboys draft another starting offensive lineman and/or Tyler & Terence are the better players on the edge, the team could just keep Tyron on ice as their swing, where he won’t reach his playing time incentives.
The Cowboys’ front office was brilliant when they were ahead of the game early in Smith’s career by signing him to an eight-year, $98 million deal back in 2014. Now, here we are nearly a decade later and the team, with the willing help of Smith, have crafted another team-friendly contract.