Dallas Cowboys Tyron Smith/Terence Steele decision will be telling

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line situation has been a hot button issue since the offseason began. The 2022 line was an uncomfortable game of dominos. Injuries demanded a constant rotation of personnel. Some combinations worked. Other combinations – not so much.

The end result was a poor final product that struggled to control the line of scrimmage, couldn’t open holes, and failed to keep Dak Prescott upright. Age, recovery time, progression, and the big picture all factor into decisions in 2023, leading to vigorous debate throughout Cowboys Nation.

If Tyron Smith wins the job over Terence Steele at RT it’s a good indication the Dallas Cowboys value pass protection above all.

The Dallas Cowboys made clear from the start of the offseason, they wanted Tyler Smith to be their LT. The Tulsa tackle was drafted in the first round of the 2022 draft to be the heir apparent to Tyron Smith, after all. Despite entering the NFL a raw prospect, the rookie showed significant promise at the position (despite being a LG throughout training camp).

Since Tyron’s pay is based on playing time, RT has to be his job to lose.

Operating under the assumption the Cowboys still want to use their most valuable young linemen at the most valuable position on the line, it leaves the future Hall of Famer Tyron Smith to duke it out with the rising star of Terence Steele at RT.

Early in the offseason the Cowboys declared Tyron Smith the starter at RT with Steele working as relief behind him. It caused waves in Cowboys Nation because based on 2022 film, Steele was the better RT. Tyron struggled with the new position and the running game noticeably fell off after the change was made.

Steele is good

For as terrible as Steele was early in his career (he was arguably the worst starting OT in the NFL) he developed into something pretty impressive. Before tearing his ACL in 2022, he was regarded as an elite run blocker in the NFL and appeared to be improving by the day.

Smith’s run blocking in relief paled in comparison.

So why exactly would the Dallas Cowboys slot Smith in ahead of Steele in 2023?

A few reasons:

  1. They know Smith is healthy and Steele is still recovering
  2. Smith reworked his deal to be incentive-based, so they had to give him first crack at it
  3. Smith is a better pass protector and they are prioritizing pass protection
  4. They don’t want to boost Steele’s value
  5. They’re lying about everything

To address the last point, first, the Dallas Cowboys are happy to mislead other teams but rarely do they outright lie just to throw off their own fans. There’s nothing to gain from it. I don’t believe No. 5 to be fact.

based on 2022 film, Steele was the better RT. Plain and simple.

The first point just speaks to typical veteran respect. Smith, the vet, deserves to start training camp in the top slot. Given Tyron’s injury history, they may even expect Tyron to get hurt, solving the entire situation naturally.

The second point speaks to the logic of Tyron’s pay-cut. He wouldn’t agree to an incentive laden pay-cut if he wasn’t given the chance to earn it. Since his pay is based on playing time, it has to be his job to lose.

The real question

The point I’m most curious about today (No. 3) is if both players are healthy and competitive all camp, and Tyron still walks away with the top role.

Steele’s recent injury notwithstanding, he’s the healthier and more reliable option. He’s a far better run blocker and has the far brighter future. The only aspect Tyron’s better is in pass protection.

The Dallas Cowboys had issues with pass protection in 2022. Steele is an average-to-below-average pass blocker. Even if Tyron is a declining player, he’s still regarded as the better pass protector of the two.

The last thing to consider is the long-term view of the team. If the Cowboys don’t know if they’ll re-sign Steele, they may not be interested in handing him the job again and boosting his value in 2023. Tyron is probably gone in 2024 regardless but Steele is expected to demand north of $10 million APY on his next deal.

They may not want to boost his value any more than it is already and/or the Cowboys could be searching for affordable Plan Bs. It’s strange and somewhat malicious, but perfectly possible.

At the end of the day I believe Point 1 and 2 to be fact. I’m curious how things shake out because that will tell me about Point 3. And if a deal isn’t struck before the season starts, I’ll believe Point 4 as well.

The next three months will be very telling