Analysis

Where Do Dallas Cowboys Turn After Tyron Smith Injury?

How devastating to the Dallas Cowboys was losing left tackle Tyron Smith to a torn hamstring, an injury that could shelve Smith for the entire 2022 season? 

“Other than losing Dak Prescott, I can’t imagine an injury that could have a greater potential impact on Dallas’ final record this year,” said Joe Banner, former NFL executive and The 33rd Team co-founder.

So where do the Cowboys go from here without their two-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle? Who’s going to replace him? Where does that player come from? And what does this mean to their chances of defending their NFC East title this season?

So many questions for Dallas to sort through in the aftermath of Thursday’s news.

Replacing Tyron Smith

The Cowboys will be eager to defend their 2021 NFC East title, and could look at the street free agent market, wait for rosters to be trimmed to 53 players next Tuesday, or seek a trade to address their lack of experienced depth along the offensive line. 

“No one should kid themselves — there is no option out there that isn’t a huge drop-off from Smith,” Banner said. “I would check on (former Chiefs and Colts OT) Eric Fisher and sign him if he wants to play and is in decent shape. The best they can hope for is to mitigate the damage the loss will cause.”

With the start of the NFL season only two weeks away, The 33rd Team’s head of scouting TJ McCreight thinks Dallas might choose to look outside their own building for a replacement.

“I would think they would wait and claim the best tackle available (after the cutdown),” said McCreight. “Their pro department has been tracking the pre-season games and are ready to do this. Most cuts will start coming in after teams play their last preseason game.”

McCreight also added a few more specific possibilities, though he is somewhat skeptical of bringing in a player off the street.

You see names like Fisher and (former Jets and Seahawks OT) Brandon Shell, but you are not sure of where those players are in regards to health and conditioning unless you have brought them into your building previously for a visit,” McCreight said. “Jordan Tucker and David Steinmetz were recently released (by the Steelers and Chiefs, respectively) and have some decent tape. But most likely, the Cowboys will give it a few days and claim a player.”

Can a Rookie Step Up?

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has not ruled out the possibility of replacing Smith with an in-house solution. Dallas drafted two tackles in the 2022 draft — Tyler Smith in the first round and Matt Waletzko in the fifth — but that’s asking a lot from a rookie to immediately step in to protect Prescott’s blind side.

“We’ve played a lot of games without Tyron, [but] not as successfully as we do with him,” Jones told ESPN’s First Take. “In the meantime, we’ve got a guy named Tyler Smith who’s come on the scene.”

Mike Tannenbaum, co-founder of The 33rd Team and former general manager of the New York Jets, considers the rookie a possible replacement, though not a perfect one. Tyler Smith has been competing for the Cowboys’ starting left guard position.

“This is a hugely consequential injury,” Tannenbaum said. “I would consider Tyler Smith, their first-round pick, possibly going out to tackle, but that is far from an ideal solution. Besides the on-field impact this injury has, it’s also going to eat up $13.5 million that won’t help them win.”

Dallas’ Road Forward

The Cowboys waived tackle La’el Collins following the conclusion of the 2021 season. Then they selected Tyler Smith and Waletzko in the draft. But, apart from 2021 fourth-round pick Josh Ball, Waletzko is one of the only true tackle options to replace Tyron Smith.

Since 2017, Ball has been the only tackle the Cowboys have drafted in the first four rounds. Dallas failed to learn from history with their great line of the past: Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Larry Allen and Erik Williams. The Cowboys let this great offensive line grow old together and took a decade to replace them with Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Fredrick, Zack Martin and Collins.

Now, for the 2022 season, only Martin remains. This, no doubt, leaves the Cowboys vulnerable.

The clock is ticking; in just over two weeks, Dallas begins its quest to repeat as division champs against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.

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