For all of the flack that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has taken for his performance as the team’s general manager, two of his most recent first-round picks, wide receiver Dez Bryant and left tackle Tryon Smith, are not only bona-fide NFL starters, but are amongst the best in the NFL at their respective positions.
The Cowboys would be smart to lock both up to long-term deals; but as of now, there are no reports of any talks taking place between the sides.
Bryant, whose contract expires after the 2014 season, told TMZ (of all places) that he wants to be a Cowboy for life. While it’s common for any current player on any team to say such a thing, it’s not hard to believe that Bryant actually means it. The Cowboys seem to have built a strong support system around the young man who came into the league with character concerns, after a tough upbringing, and you imagine that Bryant wants to stay with the team that took a chance on him, and where he feels comfortable. That doesn’t mean that Bryant is necessarily willing to take too much of a discount (nor should he), but expect his best efforts to stay in Dallas.
Smith’s contract is also up after the 2014 season, but the Cowboys hold an option for 2015, which would have to be exercised this spring.
Although both players are still under control for at least one more season, and the Cowboys also have the franchise tag option to use on Bryant in 2015 and 2016, figuring out how to sign both to long-term deals needs to be a priority for a team that still needs to make moves to get under the salary cap by March 11.
Bryant’s talent and value to the team is a little more obvious to the average football fan, routinely making circus catches and big plays that are replayed over and over on TV and show up on any stat sheet. Smith’s value isn’t as easy to see, but the 23-year-old was ranked as the fifth best tackle in football by Pro Football Focus, giving up only one sack and three quarterback hits in 2013 (pay special attention to his age. A 23-year-old, 3-year NFL veteran. He’s only going to get better.).
It’s unlikely that the Cowboys will have to choose between the two, but if they do, one would imagine that Smith would be higher on their priority list. That’s no knock against Bryant, who is a dynamic play-maker and a key component to the offense, but replacing a star left tackle is much more difficult than compensating for the loss of a star wide receiver, no matter how good he is.
Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas suggests that, given the current salary cap woes, the Cowboys best option might be to extend Bryant first, and use Smith’s option to get through the next two seasons, but at some point, the Cowboys need to lock up the cornerstone of their offensive line.
While all the upcoming focus will probably be on players not yet on the Cowboys, in free agency and the Draft, don’t forget that two of the most important young players who can make an impact on the Cowboys future are already on the roster, and the team needs to figure out the best plan to make sure that it stays that way.