The roster turnover is about to begin. Free agency opens Thursday, and the 2017 NFL Draft isn’t far behind it. Over the next two months, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.
For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones that will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys’ 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they’ve been and where they’re going.
The series continues with first-team All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.
What’s Been Good: Smith’s entire career, basically. The 2011 ninth overall pick made a smooth transition to left tackle by his second season. He made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team by his third season. The 26-year-old, four-time All-Pro is the most accomplished player on arguably the best offensive line in football. In 2016, Smith was as consistent as ever against some of the NFL’s best defensive lines, accepting challenges against outstanding rushers such as Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap, the Giants’ Olivier Vernon and Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs. Smith and the Cowboys O-Line created lanes for rookie Ezekiel Elliott’s NFL-best 1,631 rushing yards and protected first-year starting quarterback Dak Prescott, who posted 3,667 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
What’s Been Bad: If there was any concern with Smith in his fifth season, it was his health. He dealt with a neck stinger in preseason, a back injury that sidelined him two games (his first missed regular-season time since 2013) and a knee injury that kept him out of the regular-season finale at Philadelphia with the Cowboys having already clinched the No. 1 playoff seed. Despite those ailments, Smith made 13 regular-season starts and returned for the team’s divisional-round playoff loss to Green Bay.
2016 Highlight: The Cowboys faced plenty of formidable defensive fronts in 2016, but the most impressive performance by Smith and the line might have been Dallas’ Oct. 16 win at Lambeau Field. The Packers entered that game with the league’s best run defense, allowing only 171 rushing yards through their first four games. Not only did Dallas pile up 191 yards on the ground (including 157 from Elliott), Smith’s primary matchup in pass protection, six-time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, was not credited with a quarterback hit. Prescott threw three touchdown passes in a definitive 30-16 victory.
What’s Next: Not much for Smith, who’s signed through 2023 as a franchise cornerstone. The left guard spot next to Smith could change again next season; Ronald Leary is an unrestricted free agent, and his departure would likely mean La’el Collins steps back into the starting lineup. Smith’s backup tackle, Chaz Green, will be coming off season-ending back surgery from last December. Read