Oct 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) in action against Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith (77) at Cowboys Stadium. The Bears beat the Cowboys 34-18. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Tyron Smith Contract Talks To Test Cowboys Newfound Fiscal Prudence


Oct 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) in action against Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith (77) at Cowboys Stadium. The Bears beat the Cowboys 34-18. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

What should a new Tyron Smith contract look like? As the Cowboys left tackle enters the final year of his rookie deal, the impending cost to keep him almost certainly influenced some of the team’s roster decisions this offseason. The club can exercise a one-year option for 2015, but the challenge of extending a franchise cornerstone beyond that without blowing up future caps will test the team’s nascent commitment to fiscal prudence.

The man known as Tyron Island, for his consistent ability to shut down elite rushers without any help from backs or tight ends, enjoyed his finest season as a pro in 2013. Smith earned his first Pro Bowl berth and was named a second-team All Pro behind two of the league’s established stars, Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and Philadelphia’s Jason Peters. Thomas is at or near his prime at age 29 and Peters is entering the back nine of his career at 32. Smith, at just 23, still possesses tremendous upside.

Smith’s 2014 cap number of $3.97 million is a bargain, ranked 19th in the league among left tackles, according to sportrac.com. Brandon George over at the Dallas Morning News reported recently the team is sure to exercise the club option for 2015. The deadline to do so is May 3 and it will guarantee Smith $10.039 million in 2015.

Even that may be a bargain. Smith’s combination of elite play and uncommon youth make him something of an outlier, so determining his market value will make contract negotiations tricky. Head Coach Jason Garrett said recently the team will base roster decisions and contract negotiations on projected future performance:

“You don’t want to build your team with guys based on what they’ve done in the past. It’s based on what they can do now for your team, and what they can do going forward for your team.”

At the time, Garrett’s revelation was widely interpreted as a justification for the release of Cowboys icon DeMarcus Ware. But this philosophy applies not just to who gets cut, but who gets extended as well. It makes placing a market value on Smith a bit scary – he’s already so good at 23, how much better can he get going forward, and how best to identify the price tag for that potential? A good place to start is by examining existing contracts.  Here’s a look at some of the top left tackle contracts in the last few years, along with the age of the player when he signed and his NFL accolades up to that point:

Pre-Contract Honors and Deal Terms

 
Pro Bowls
All Pro
Year Signed
Term
Value
Age at signing
Jason Peters6220145yrs$48.3m32
Branden Albert1-20145yrs$46m29
Eugene Monroe--20145yrs$37.5m27
Ryan Clady3220135yrs$52.5m27
Jermon Bushrod2-20135yrs$35.9m29
Jake Long4120134yrs$34m28
Duane Brown--20127yrs$56.2m27
Joe Thomas3220118yrs$92m26
Information courtesy overthecap.com

 

Half those contracts extend the player until age 34. We can’t be sure if that’s a coincidence or if 34 is a “magic number” in the eyes of most NFL GMs for projecting productivity along the offensive line. Either way, given his age and talent, a 10-year contract for Smith isn’t out of the question, depending on how creative the Cowboys brass wants to get.

And it might be a good investment. Left tackles represent one of the pricier NFL positions, and player salaries should increase as team cap limits are expected to continue to rise. Top left tackles today tend to average about $10 million a year, with anywhere from 15 to 35 percent of it guaranteed. Odds are, that’s only going up.

A recent data study at footballperspective.com looked at how age affects production at the tackle position in the NFL. The data suggests tackles tend to peak at age 28, but above average players will retain much of their productivity through age 34.

If those numbers are right, then Smith is still 4 to 5 years away from his prime. That means a more conventional contract term could force the Cowboys to negotiate a third deal while Smith is playing the best football of his life, possibly exposing the team to overpaying for a player whose production is likely to deteriorate. Sound familiar? A 10-year extension next offseason would lock him up through 2024, all through his prime, as well as most of his productive post-prime years. Perhaps an average salary of $10 million per year, today’s going rate for elite left tackles, would appeal to Smith and his agent if a larger than normal portion of it was guaranteed. Hard to say.

Fiscal prudence in the NFL requires creativity, a keen eye for the long view, and no small amount of ruthlessness. Smith’s youth and talent will give him plenty of leverage at the negotiation table. So will the strategic importance of the position he plays. Should be interesting to see how the matter is handled by a Cowboys front office outwardly professing an organizational commitment to smart, responsible cap management. We’ve seen the team refuse an expensive extension for defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, an aging, home-grown player coming off a career year. Now let’s see how they handle one of their own whose best days are still ahead of him.

Tags: Dallas Cowboys Tyron Smith

  • Old Frog

    I would pay Smith and let Bryant walk rather than pay them both $10 million + per year.

    • John

      Mike Wallace is getting $12m APY in Miami… Dwayne Bowe is getting $11m APY in KC… I’m not as convinced as everyone else that Dez is sure to be back in Big D.

      • Old Frog

        Fine with me. Dez is replaceable; Smith is not. Save the money.

        • John

          Amen, Frog. I think Jerry would spend whatever it takes to re-sign Bryant, and I think Garrett/Stephen would be more willing to let him walk if they can’t come up with something cap friendly… How Dez is handled will tell us a lot about who’s wielding power at Valley Ranch.

        • bigred1985

          All 3 that commented above me have ludicrous comments I agree that smith should be paid first but to say that dez is replaceable is crazy he’s top 3 receiver in the league who is just starting to tap into his potential there is no way dez is just replaceable C’mon Man

          • Old Frog

            Not to be disrespectful but I think you’re missing a digit. He only had 1230 yards and averaged 77 yds/game last year which means he was ranked 13th. He also had 3 fumbles which was tied for most of any receiver in the NFL. Pay him as a 13th ranked receiver that fumbles – I’m ok with that but Dez is going to want top 5 money and for that I would let him walk.

          • bigred1985

            Dez is undoubtedly a top 5 receiver there is no way you let him walk because you don’t like him. He is the next best to Calvin Johnson and he helps this offense really go, if you watch the games our offense does nothing until dez gets involved. And he had 13 tds last year and 12 the year before that. There is no way he is the 13th best

          • Old Frog

            Didn’t say I don’t like him. Only that I don’t want to pay him more than what he’s worth.
            Maybe this will give you some clarity:

            http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/player/_/stat/receiving

    • aprado

      I tend to agree with allot of your comment old frog, but losing Bryant,unless we hit a gym later in the draft in the next few years, would signify a rebuild process. We don’t have a Brady or manning who could use any receiver. If we get rid of dez and Romo is on the way out, who is going to help the young QB. The running game isn’t consistent. DB aren’t getting paid huge bucks, the increase of the salary cap will help with the inflated salaries. A long term deal could be a steal this early in his career. I don’t think we could afford to let dez walk and expect anythinggood on return.

  • PaulTX

    Highest paid guy should be your QB. Second highest paid guy should be your blindside. If you find a good guy at either position, you do what it takes to keep him. Not so with other positions.

  • Kyle L.

    When he says “The man known as Tyron Island,”he means known only to him because he just made that up.

  • ctcowboy1968

    Have to pay Tyron. A ten year deal at $10 APY works. Have to bring Dez back too. He is already a stud and is still growing. He is the straw that stirs the drink. The real problem here is that JJ overpaid Romo. I like Tony, but he is going to be $27 million of the 2015 cap (20%). That kills this team’s salary options.

  • bigred1985

    Old frog how many receivers on that list had more TD’s than dez 1 or 2 if I remember correctly. yards are not everything! to me I would rather have a WR to be in the top 5 every year in TD’S than top 5 in yards and dez was sharing targets between witten, miles, williams, and murray I don’t care how you slice it you can not name 13 better WR’S in the league and have 1 person agree with you.