FRISCO, Texas – As of early Thursday afternoon, the Cowboys were still gathering details on the timetable and extent of Tyron Smith's hamstring injury, which is expected to require surgery.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has expressed confidence that Smith will be back "at the right time," meaning for a potential playoff run. In the meantime, though, how will the Cowboys proceed without the eight-time Pro Bowler?
Here are five options:
The night the Cowboys drafted Smith with the 24th overall pick on April 28, head coach Mike McCarthy said Smith would be a "left-side player" working at guard and tackle. That was the case through OTAs and minicamp. In training camp, though, Smith has worked exclusively at left guard in competition with Connor McGovern. Will that change due to Tyron Smith injury? Quite possibly. Tyler Smith started at left tackle in college and the Cowboys view him as the left tackle of the future. He's currently dealing with a minor ankle injury, however.
Ball has gotten a huge amount of left tackle reps in practice and preseason games so far, including some with the first-team offense because the Cowboys have been mindful of Tyron Smith's workload even before this hamstring injury. A fourth-round pick a year ago, Ball missed his entire rookie season with an ankle injury, and these first two preseason games have been the first NFL game action of his career. McCarthy has been pleased with his improvement since camp began, but obviously he's short on experience.
This year's fifth-round pick suffered a shoulder subluxation on July 29, the Cowboys' third practice in Oxnard, and didn't return to practice until this past Tuesday, when he got some left tackle reps with the second-team offense. Surgery is still a possibility at some point, but for now Waletzko is working through the injury and giving the Cowboys another depth option. Like Ball, Waletzko lacks experience, and he's making a big jump to the NFL from FCS North Dakota. The Cowboys like his athletic ability and upside, though. Third-year tackle Aviante Collins has had a solid camp, too.
The Cowboys have committed to Steele as the right tackle of the future after releasing veteran La'el Collins in the offseason. Steele did make six starts at left tackle filling in an injured Tyron Smith last season, however, and while Steele acknowledged switching sides presented some challenges at first, that might be something the Cowboys consider if they're looking for a more experienced in-house option to protect quarterback Dak Prescott's blind side.
Outside The Roster
The Cowboys likely had a short list of free agent options before Tyron Smith's injury, and they've gone the veteran route at swing tackle in recent years with Ty Nsekhe, Cameron Erving and Cameron Fleming. Even if they look internally first – say, Tyler Smith moving out to tackle – perhaps they'll still look to add a veteran for depth through free agency or a possible trade before (or after) final roster cuts around the league. Left tackle depth is usually hard to find given the position's importance. The most notable name in free agency is former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, a nine-year veteran who played his first eight seasons with the Chiefs and started 15 games for the Colts last year but has battled injuries, including an Achilles tear at the end of the 2020 season. Other names to consider would be long-time Eagles standout Jason Peters and Marcus Cannon, a veteran who has played with the Patriots and Texans.