Just like when Dak Prescott snapped his ankle in Week 5 of the 2020 season, Jerry Jones watched his dream of winning another Super Bowl title go up in smoke when Tyron Smith suffered yet another serious injury that may sideline him for the entire year.
Sorry to put it so bluntly, Dallas Cowboys fans, but your beloved team’s odds of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February are as good as the chances of Tom Brady embracing #NoDaysOff.
In other words: The Cowboys are cooked.
Tyron Smith will miss multiple months after suffering a hamstring injury
Smith, an eight-time Pro Bowler who should earn serious consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, sustained a season-altering setback during Wednesday’s practice as he tore his left hamstring off the bone—a devastating injury that will keep him out of action until at least December.
Of course, Smith has been hurt far more often than he’s been healthy in recent years. After playing all 16 games in four of his first five seasons, the 31-year-old started 13 in each of the following four. Smith only appeared in two games in 2020, and he made 11 starts in 2021.
With the talented pass protector out indefinitely, Jerry Jones suddenly has a significant problem to solve.
Unfortunately for Prescott (as well as Cowboys fans), there isn’t a clear-cut path to overcome losing Smith just weeks before the regular season begins. In fact, the veteran’s latest injury only highlights the team’s frighteningly bad depth along the offensive line.
Despite dealing with the fallout of health issues up front in recent years, the Cowboys elected to release longtime starting right tackle La’el Collins in March. They followed up by selecting talented but raw prospect Tyler Smith with the 24th overall pick– a move made more for the future than the present.
With undrafted free agent-turned-starter Terence Steele and 2021 fourth-rounder Josh Ball as the only holdovers, Dallas took a massive risk by handling the tackle position accordingly.
Smith obviously has a resume that can’t be questioned, but he also comes with a well-earned “injury-prone” tag. Not having at least a serviceable veteran backup looks like a massive mistake by Jones and Mike McCarthy.
Plus, let’s not pretend the Cowboys don’t have potential issues along the interior, either.
Sure, Zack Martin still ranks as one of the best guards in the league. But the 32-year-old doesn’t have nearly the same caliber of battery mates as he did during the early days of the Prescott era.
According to Pro Football Focus, center Tyler Biadasz committed a league-high 11 penalties in 2021, and he only earned a grade of 64.8. Meanwhile, 2019 fourth-rounder Connor McGovern enters the 2022 season with only 14 starts under his belt—a reflection of his status as more of a sixth offensive lineman than a true starter.
The rest of the depth chart features undrafted free agents and a few late-round picks, none of whom project to earn significant snaps.
The Cowboys have more problems than just the loss of Smith
Needless to say, protection issues could easily derail a Cowboys offense that no longer has the reliable Amari Cooper opposite CeeDee Lamb. So, not only will Prescott have to hope someone other than Smith can keep him out of harm’s way, but he will also have to overcome losing a receiver with five 1,000-yard campaigns on his resume.
Obviously, Dallas doesn’t have a lack of big-name stars. Even with Smith out of the lineup and Cooper calling Cleveland home, the offense still features Prescott, Lamb, Martin, and Ezekiel Elliott (talk about someone who desperately needs a big season). On the other side of the ball, Micah Parsons headlines a unit that also includes DeMarcus Lawrence and Trevon Diggs.
Yet the depth of the roster, particularly along the offensive line, leaves serious cause for concern. If Prescott doesn’t have time to make his reads, how exactly will the offense keep the chains moving? If the line misses blocks, how exactly will Elliott—a player whose best days seem to be behind him—find any room to run?
Just look at what happened to Joe Burrow if you need proof of why protection matters. The Cincinnati Bengals simply got overwhelmed by Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 56. As great of a quarterback as Burrow is, constant pressure forced him to miss some throws, and he took seven sacks in the 23-20 loss to Matthew Stafford and Co.
Of course, unlike the Cowboys, the Bengals actually invested in veteran help for their franchise QB. The typically conservative organization signed Alex Cappa (four years, $35 million) and Ted Karras (three years, $18 million) to fortify an offensive line that features 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams at left tackle and Collins, the ex-Cowboy, at right tackle.
Dallas still has time and enough financial wriggle room ($18.5 million in cap space) to attempt to fill the void left by Smith.
But if the team does bring in someone off the street or via trade, will that player have enough time to learn the offense and do a serviceable job?
For Dak Prescott’s sake, Tyler Smith hopefully does his best Tyron Smith impression as a rookie. However, the odds of a first-year pro widely viewed as a developmental prospect becoming even a league-average starter in year one are not particularly high.
Then again, neither were the chances of Tyron Smith making it through the season unscathed.