When the Dallas Cowboys selected USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, fans and experts alike questioned the Cowboys for taking a right tackle so early in the draft. The obvious assumption is that Smith will replace Marc Colombo and solidify the right tackle spot for years to come. While getting help at any position on the O-Line was a great help for Dallas, a versatile lineman like Tyron Smith can play left tackle or right tackle on the line. But where should the Cowboys play him, and why?
Option 1 - Left Tackle
Starting left tackle Doug Free might become an unrestricted free agent depending on the rules of the NFL when the lockout ends, which would make re-signing him priority No. 1 if the Cowboys hope to be productive next season. Starting Tyron Smith at left tackle and moving Doug Free back to right tackle would be a very high risk/high reward situation that Dallas will have to think about in training camp, whenever there is a training camp.
If the Cowboys assign Doug Free the right tackle position, they might be able to lower the monetary value of his contract, while making the No. 9 pick look more valuable in the process. This move would create a larger emphasis on Smith's rookie mistakes but could pay off big time if he becomes an elite left tackle in the league. At age 20, Tyron Smith has a lot of upside, and could be a long-time starter at left tackle in the league if he lives up to his massive potential. We know that Doug Free is very comfortable playing on the right side, where he started in the 2009-2010 season.
Option 2 - Right Tackle
The other direction the Cowboys could go in is start Tyron Smith at right tackle position this year to let him adjust to the speed on the NFL game and either keep him there or switch him to the left side of the line in a year or two. This is another strong option that the Cowboys need to look at but is also contingent on Doug Free playing left tackle.
If Free is lost in free agency, for instance, Tyron Smith will definitely be the starting left tackle. Losing Doug Free would be a disaster, since Free was the Cowboys' best offensive lineman last year. This option is the safer pick, since right tackles usually don't go up against the best pass-rushers from the other team.
If this was my decision to make, I would start Tyron Smith at left tackle this year. He will be good this year and has the potential to develop into one of the elite left tackles in the NFL. Playing him at left tackle this year will not only make him more comfortable in the years to come, but also give him a test of some of the NFL's best pass-rushers.
Doug Free is seven years older than Tyron Smith, which means the left tackle spot will eventually go to Smith in the future if he lives up to his potential. Developing Tyron Smith into a great player is a must for a team with an aging offensive line, and this is the year to do it.