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For Dallas, Tyron Smith Extension Is Worth Risking Future Salary-Cap Constraints

USA Today
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

A valid argument can be made that, by giving left tackle Tyron Smith a nine-figure contract extension, the Dallas Cowboys are pushing their salary-cap luck.

After all, this is a team that has been handcuffed by the cap in back-to-back years and is expected to have trouble re-signing key cogs such as Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Bruce Carter in upcoming offseasons.

Those three are all slated to become unrestricted free agents next year, while Spotrac indicates that quarterback Tony Romo is scheduled to have the highest cap number in the league.

According to ESPN.com's Todd Archer, the deal for Smith is an eight-year extension through 2023 that will pay the former top-10 pick $110 million over the next 10 years. It is certainly long enough to give the Cowboys wiggle room for restructures.

With that said, it's still the biggest contract in terms of total dollars ever given to a non-quarterback in team history. Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News reports that it'll cost the Cowboys $32 million over the first three years:

It's unclear whether those "first three years" kick in now or in 2016, but it is clear that Smith will cost more now than he would have under his rookie deal.

Before taking Smith's new contract into account, and with Bryant, Murray and Carter off the books, Over the Cap still had the Cowboys entering the 2015 offseason with the eighth-highest team salary in the league.

Estimated top team salary totals entering 2015
TeamTotal salary
1. New Orleans Saints$152,812,277
2. New England Patriots$147,728,128
3. Arizona Cardinals$149,743,266
4. Miami Dolphins$145,477,633
5. San Francisco 49ers$145,788,420
6. Baltimore Ravens$138,564,396
7. Philadelphia Eagles$136,549,320
8. Dallas Cowboys$139,085,042
9. Carolina Panthers$134,170,104
10. Washington Redskins$128,820,550
OvertheCap.com

So despite the fact that the cap is expected to rise steadily in future seasons as a result of increased revenue coming in from new television deals worth in excess of $4 billion a year, the Cowboys have to be smart with their money.

That's precisely why Bryant and Murray remain unsigned. There's no questioning how important they are, but both present bigger risks—whether on or off the field—than Smith.

Fairly or unfairly, character concerns still surround Bryant. Another year of model citizenship couldn't hurt, and the franchise tag is there as a safety valve. Murray has been prone to injury, and running backs generally haven't proven to be good investments of late.

The last thing this franchise can afford to do is start digging deeper salary-cap holes, especially before it's necessary to make a move.

Unsurprisingly, Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News quoted team chief operating officer Stephen Jones as stating that the Cowboys will wait until after the season to discuss Murray's deal.

Smith is as steady and reliable as they come. In fact, as a 23-year-old Pro Bowl left tackle, he might have simply been too good to wait on.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was the only tackle in football to surrender fewer than two sacks on over 1,000 offensive snaps last season. As a result of that and some stellar run-blocking, he was named a second-team All-Pro and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Fewest sacks allowed on min. 1,000 snaps (tackles), 2013
TackleSnapsSacks allowed
1. Tyron Smith10231
2. Michael Roos10882
2. Joe Thomas11492
2. Austin Howard10712
2. Cordy Glenn11812
Pro Football Focus

Ultimately, PFF ranked Smith second in pass-blocking efficiency among left tackles in the game.

Most efficient pass-blocking left tackles, 2013
Left tacklePBE
1. Joe Staley96.6
2. Tyron Smith96.3
3. Joe Thomas96.2
4. Cordy Glenn96.2
4. Branden Albert96.2
Pro Football Focus (PBE: Pass-blocking efficiency rating)

Considering that it was only his second year on the blind side at such a young age, the trajectory is heading upward in a major way.

This franchise might soon reach a crossroads. Jason Witten is 32, and Romo is 34 with a bad back. There's a chance they fade. There's a chance Murray has to be replaced. There's even a chance Bryant screws up again.

Moreover, we all know that a defense that ranked dead last in football last season could use a rebuild after losing several of its top players in the offseason.

But this offensive line, which is arguably the best in football, is young and strong enough to hold up for the entire next generation. Smith is the anchor.

PositionPlayerAgeDraftedPFF rank
Left tackleTyron Smith239th5th
Left guardZack Martin2316thN/A
CenterTravis Frederick2331st7th
Right guardRonald Leary25UDFA55th
Right tackleDoug Free30122nd18th
Pro Football Focus/NFL.com

You don't risk letting players like that get away. Instead, you go out of your way to keep them happy and secure. That's why Smith was worth investing in right here, right now.

 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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