ARLINGTON, Texas – On April 30, 2016, the Dallas Cowboys drafted Dak Prescott, claiming they wanted to develop a backup quarterback to Tony Romo, and who knows, maybe the guy will become their franchise quarterback of the future.
After all, Romo had just turned 36, and the Cowboys had grown tired of hopscotching over veteran after veteran after veteran for a backup. Their second fourth round pick that year, the eighth quarterback taken in the draft, was seen as the future.
Well, on Aug. 25, 2016, nearly six years ago to the day Wednesday when Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tyron Smith suffered a torn hamstring tendon at the back of the knee, Romo was sacked from behind by Cliff Avril on the third play of that preseason game in Seattle , suffering what became known as a compression fracture to the vertebra. He would be out for months.
Dak would enter the game, third down, and completed a 12-yard pass to Cole Beasley for a first down. The rookie would finish the game completing 17 of 23 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown.
Unplanned, unexpected, that Cowboys quarterback future had arrived, Prescott, turning into the singular “Dak” known nationwide, leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record his rookie season and ushering Romo into retirement.
Well, one day shy of exactly six years later, on Aug. 24, 2022, Smith, the Cowboys Pro Bowl left tackle, suffered this unusual injury to a football player. He is expected to miss at least three months after successful surgery on Friday performed by Cowboys orthopedic specialist Dr. Dan Cooper, and my gosh, what now are the Cowboys to do. Suggestions from the uninitiated have come flowing in: Sign this old veteran 31 other teams have so far turned up their noses on. Hurry, trade for that guy. Get this one to unretire. Maybe move one of the starters on the right side at guard or tackle to the left.
So, Friday night, on our Countdown To Kickoff pregame show prior to the Cowboys playing their third and final preseason game against the Seahawks, a 27-26 victory mostly thanks to five takeaways, I asked Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, “How do you approach it going forward to fill that left tackle spot? “
Without any hesitation, Jones said, “Well, we drafted it.”
He meant one Tyler Smith, the Cowboys 2022 first round draft choice, the 24th pick overall.
”There is a good chance this will be some advancement of his evolution ultimately as our left tackle,” Jones said.
You bet. My exact thoughts. And why not.
All this talk about Tyler Smith initially starting off at left guard and eventually in the future transitioning to left tackle when Tyron’s days are numbered, the position he has played since high school, sounded great. Kind of ease his way into the NFL before filling in Tyron’s cleats.
But you know what. That future has just arrived. It’s now.
Get in there, big guy.
Sometimes the best laid plans get shuttered. Sort of like saving for the future and then one 100-degree laced summer causes the purchase of all three air conditioning units at the house.
Now this isn’t suggesting the Cowboys once again will catch lightning in a rookie bottle the way they did with Dak taking over for Romo. I mean, who knew back then the eighth of 15 quarterbacks drafted in 2016 would be the only one still playing for the team that drafted him. That’s Dak, the exception to this group that includes the two quarterbacks selected with the first two picks in the draft, Jared Goff going No. 1 to the Rams and Carson Wentz No. 2 to the Eagles.
But think about this. Had Romo not suffered that injury, Dak Prescott might never have become just Dak. That opportunity might never have come around while the Cowboys were waiting for the future to arrive, especially since Romo claimed he wanted to play until he was 40.
Sometimes, you just never know.
But have the feeling, while the Cowboys seem to be dancing around what they know is the right thing to do, that Tyler Smith is their guy. Look, there is a reason these aging veteran free-agent tackles are still free agents. They are asking for an arm and a leg, er, whatever salary cap space you might have left.
Then there is this notion of trading for a starting capable left tackle, like going down to the Texaco to pluck one off the shelf. Who the heck has like four quality tackles when most teams are lucky to have at least two, let alone a capable third swing tackle.
And these young guys the Cowboys have, Josh Ball and Matt Waletzko. Well, there is a reason Ball went in last year’s fourth round and Waletzko went in this year’s fifth round. Neither has yet to take a real NFL snap.
Come on, the Cowboys thought Smith was worthy of a first-round pick. They had to see something there. And while they had Tyler Smith planning to bide his time at left guard, that was never going to be his final landing spot. Remember they did the same thing with Flozell Adams, starting him off at guard while knowing he would eventually be a starting tackle. Same with Solomon Page. And for more current history, same with La’el Collins, guard then tackle.
Well, if healthy – Tyler Smith has been nursing a sprained ankle this entire week, missing both practices and Saturday night’s preseason finale – time to go with the rookie at tackle.
And as for the quick transition from guard to tackle, Tyler told me Thursday night on the Blue Carpet prior to the Cowboys 2022 Season Kickoff event, “I’ve played the position my whole life, but have just been playing guard.”
Yep, a tackle in guard’s clothing.
”He’s had an outstanding camp for a rookie,” Jones said, “but he’s got the skills. I’m not sure how we’ll end up with this adjustment at this time, but that’s why we made him (our) No 1 pick in the draft.
”We were on the money addressing it right there.”
Look, most teams drafting an offensive tackle in the first round do so for need. Those guys must start immediately and go through the growing pains. The Cowboys felt they had a year or two cushion with Tyron Smith still playing at a high left despite the recent rash of injuries. Well, the cushion is gone.
They also know if Tyler Smith is their starting left tackle and now Connor McGovern is their starting left guard, with Terence Steele becoming the full-time starting right tackle, they can’t simply run the same offense they have for the past two years. They must successfully run the football, making play action dynamic And then throw a steady diet of slants, screens, quick outs. Jet sweeps, too And the Cowboys must count on their defense to help win games, those 30-burger games might be somewhat of the past for a while.
Plus, now in my mind, the backup swing tackle on a long-term basis all along would be Tyler Smith, even if he was playing guard. But if he’s the starter, now that backup swing tackle must be found. Could it be Ball? Waletzko? Maybe. Or maybe that becomes the role of an experienced, free-agent tackle if the Cowboys take that route.
”I mean seven (seasons) ago I was in a similar position,” Dak recently said, referring back to when Tony Romo injured his back in preseason, “so being the optimistic man I am, just having a lot of hope in the next man standing and understanding (it’s) my responsibility in getting that guy ready, whoever it may be, to do the best job he can and help this team win whatever it may be.”
Take it from Dak, there is no time like now when it comes to the future.