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Is star free agent LT Tyron Smith worth the risk for NY Jets?

Tyron Smith
Tyron Smith

The New York Jets might have to take a gamble if they want to find game-changing OL talent in free agency

As we broke down in our analysis of every free agent offensive lineman, it’s not an ideal year to be a team that desperately needs to acquire reliable veteran starters on the open market – such as the New York Jets.

While the class is devoid of can’t-miss players, it does feature quite a few players who offer a high ceiling if you are willing to accept their low floor. No free agent encapsulates this more than Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, who was a second-team All-Pro this season but has battled chronic injury woes throughout his career.

Should the Jets gamble on the Cowboys’ talented blindside protector?

Jets X-Factor’s Andrew Fialkow already put out an excellent film breakdown of Smith, so be sure to check that out. Today, we’ll focus on Smith’s analytics and his overall free agent profile.

Jets free agent profiles:

Basic info

  • Age: 33.1
  • Height: 6-foot-5
  • Weight: 320 pounds
  • College: Southern California
  • Experience: 13 years (Drafted Round 1, Pick 9 by Dallas in 2011)
  • Teams: Cowboys (2011-present)
  • Previous contract: 8 years, $97.6M (Signed with Cowboys in July 2014)

Measurables

  • Data from 2011 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time offensive tackle prospects

Tyron-Smith-OT-Dallas-Cowboys-Free-Agent

  • Height: 6’5″ (30th percentile)
  • Weight: 307 pounds (28th)
  • Arm length: 36.375in (97th)
  • Hand size: 11in (95th)
  • 40-yard dash: 5.08s (82nd)
  • Bench press: 29 reps (82nd)

Smith also tested at his pro day, where he posted a 109-inch broad jump, 31-inch vertical, 4.68-second shuttle, and 7.47-second three-cone. He also improved his forty time to 4.93 seconds. Overall, Smith earned a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.68/10.

Role

Smith started all 13 of his games in 2023 at left tackle. This is the position Smith has played for the majority of his career. Outside of a rookie year where he made all 16 of his starts at right tackle, Smith has made 141 of his last 145 starts at left tackle.

Smith has never played a snap at any of the three interior positions.

2023 performance

Dominant pass protection

An eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, Smith still appears to be in peak form. He remains one of the best pass-blockers in football at 33 years old.

In 2023, Smith allowed 18 total pressures on 536 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. His allowed pressure rate of 3.4% ranked third-best among 83 qualified tackles (min. 200 pass-blocking snaps). Among left tackles, Smith ranked second-best, trailing only Terron Armstead.

Smith played in a Cowboys offense that was slightly favorable for offensive linemen in pass protection. He faced a true pass set (excludes plays with fewer than 4 rushers, play action, screens, short drop backs, and throws under 2 seconds) on 44% of his pass-blocking snaps, which is below the 2023 position average of 46.3%. It placed him 60th out of 83 qualified tackles.

Even when accounting for the below-average difficulty of his assignments, Smith remains near the top of the pass-blocking leaderboard. His net pressure rate was -2.9%, meaning he allowed pressure 2.9% less often than he would be expected to after adjusting for his true pass set frequency. This placed Smith seventh-best among tackles, so he drops four spots compared to his normal pressure rate, but that’s still elite. Among left tackles, it ranked fourth-best.

Net pressure rate among LT (2023, min. 200 pass-blocking snaps):

(Allowed pressure rate compared to OT league average, after adjusting expectations based on true pass set frequency)

  1. Terron Armstead, MIA (-3.18%)
  2. Tristan Wirfs, TB (-3.01%)
  3. Kolton Miller, LV (-2.98%)
  4. Tyron Smith, DAL (-2.94%)
  5. Laremy Tunsil, HOU (-2.92%)

Low-impact pressures

Further adding to Smith’s pass-blocking dominance is the fact that the majority of Smith’s allowed pressures were merely hurries; 16 of 18, to be exact. Smith allowed just one sack and one hit. His 0.32% sack-plus-hit rate was third-best among all tackles and second-best among left tackles.

This has been a trend for Smith throughout his career. Since 2018, Smith has allowed only five sacks and 15 hits on 2,320 pass-blocking snaps, giving him a sack-plus-hit rate of 0.86% over that span. For perspective, the 2023 league average for tackles was 1.84%, which means Smith allows sacks and hits less than half as frequently as the average tackle.

Good run blocking

While Smith is not as dominant in the run game as he is in pass protection, he remains well-regarded in that phase. His run-game rankings are all over the map, but he fares well when you aggregate them.

Smith earned a run-blocking grade of 70.5 at PFF, which ranked 25th out of 83 qualified tackles (71st percentile).

Sports Info Solutions pegged Smith closer to the middle. According to SIS, Smith had a 2.4% blown-block rate in the run game, ranking 39th out of the 67 tackles with at least 200 run-blocking snaps (42nd percentile).

ESPN’s run-block win rate was extremely high on Smith’s run-blocking, placing him fourth-best among tackles with a 79% run-block win rate.

Looking at Dallas’ rushing success in Smith’s direction, the returns are positive. In games where Smith played, the Cowboys averaged -0.09 EPA per attempt with a 41.9% success rate (percentage of carries with positive EPA) on designed rush attempts to the left side; those marks would have ranked 10th and seventh, respectively, over the course of the full season.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure which of these metrics is the most accurate for analyzing a player’s run-blocking production. These metrics often do not correlate with one another; they tend to spit out wildly different conclusions for each player. I think the football analytics world has a lot of work to do in the run-blocking department.

Nonetheless, with one elite ranking, one above-average ranking, one fairly average ranking, and good rushing success on plays in his direction, it’s fair to peg Smith’s 2023 run-blocking as “solid” when taking everything into account.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

Smith’s 2023 dominance is right on track with what he’s done on a yearly basis for the majority of his career. Over the past nine seasons (2015-23), Smith’s pressure rate is 3.9%, not far off from his 3.4% mark in 2023.

The only major exception was the 2022 season when Smith allowed a 5.6% pressure rate (a middle-of-the-pack number), which was his worst since 2012. However, the circumstances explain Smith’s drop-off. Smith suffered a torn hamstring in training camp and did not return until mid-December. He started the last four games at right tackle, which he had not played since his rookie year.

Outside of a shaky run at right tackle in 2022, Smith has been a stalwart left tackle for his whole career. Coming off a season that ranks as one of the best in his career, nothing has changed yet.

Scheme fit

Smith comes from a balanced run scheme in Dallas, which should make him a good fit with a Jets team that also deploys a balanced run scheme. In 2023, Smith had a 1.26-to-1 ratio of zone plays to gap plays, per PFF, which is almost identical to the league average of 1.23-to-1. The Jets’ team average was 1.32-to-1 in 2023.

Durability

With everything we’ve read so far, you’ve probably been wondering, “What’s the catch? Why isn’t Smith an obvious target for the Jets?”

This is why.

Smith has missed 49 games over the past eight seasons, an average of 6.1 games per year. He’s only played 62.6% of the Cowboys’ regular season games over this span, which is about 10.6 games in a 17-game season.

Worse than those numbers is the consistency of Smith’s injury problems. It’s not as if one or two freak injuries are bloating his numbers. Smith has missed at least three games in eight consecutive seasons. He last played more than 13 games in 2015.

In 2023, Smith missed two games with a knee injury and missed one more game with a neck injury.

In 2022, Smith missed the first 13 games of the year with a torn hamstring.

In 2021, Smith missed five games with an ankle injury, with those absences coming over two separate stints.

In 2020, Smith missed the final 14 games after having neck surgery during the season.

We can go on and on with Smith’s miscellaneous new injuries in each season. He is as injury-prone as any player in the NFL.

Fortunately for Smith, he’s largely avoided major injuries. Most of his ailments are relatively minor, so, despite his constant absences, he plays the majority of the season more often than not.

Smith played at least 11 games in six of the past eight seasons. Additionally, he has never missed a playoff game in his Cowboys career. Smith appeared in all nine of the playoff games that Dallas has played since he was drafted. This spans over six playoff appearances.

Ultimately, Smith’s injury woes are extremely concerning, especially as he enters his age-34 season. However, Smith has generally proven he can be relied upon to give you somewhere from 11 to 13 regular season games while being healthy for the playoffs. If you sign him, the most likely scenario is that you’re signing up to have an elite left tackle for about three-quarters of the season and a backup left tackle for the other quarter. That’s not the worst scenario in the world.

Still, at his age and with his injury history, it always feels like Smith is one misstep away from his season being over. He is a ticking time bomb. Whoever he plays for next season will be holding their breath on every snap.

Projected cost

Spotrac is projecting that Smith will earn a one-year, $7.5 million deal, although that feels quite low for a player who was just named a second-team All-Pro.

The reason Spotrac’s projection came out so low is that it used the recent contracts of Jason Peters (1 year, $1.2M at age 40) and Kelvin Beachum (2 years, $5.2M at age 33) in the calculation, which makes no sense. Smith is a substantially better player than Peters was at 40, and Beachum has never come close to Smith at any point of his career. So, it’s fair to disregard Spotrac in this instance.

PFF’s projection is higher than Spotrac’s at one year and $10 million.

I could be wrong, but I think Smith’s value is going to push higher than $10 million. Duane Brown earned a two-year, $20 million deal from the Jets in 2022 when he was 37 years old, and he was nowhere near as good for Seattle in 2021 as Smith was in 2023. Brown’s contract is the best recent model for a big-name tackle who is in his thirties and not safe enough to sign a long-term deal. Smith’s agent will surely be arguing that his client is worth more than Brown.

An average annual value of $10 million would currently rank 32nd among tackles. At $7.5 million, Smith would rank 36th. Even with his injury woes, should he really be that low?

Smith’s injuries will undoubtedly lay a huge dent in his value, but I think that impact will be felt more heavily in the number of years on his contract and the amount of guaranteed money he receives. Personally, I see Smith getting a lucrative one-year deal for $12-14 million, or perhaps a two-year deal in the same range that includes limited guarantees for the second year.

Flag Check

I recently wrote a pair of articles that analyzed what the Jets can learn from their hits and misses in free agency. The idea was to determine which green flags and red flags at the time of the signings turned out to be the best predictors of what would happen.

Let’s take a look at Smith’s profile and see which aspects of it are reminiscent of the Jets’ hits (like D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin) and which aspects are concerningly similar to the Jets’ whiffs (like Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah).

Green flags

On the field, there is hardly anything to be concerned about.

Smith was simply unbeatable in pass protection this past season. If the Jets had to win one game against a squad of aliens to save the planet, with the contingency that they could build an offensive line from scratch using any players in the NFL, there might not be a more appealing player to have protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blindside.

On top of that, Smith still seems to be a solid run blocker. He should also be a smooth scheme fit considering he is a great athlete and is not tethered to either a zone-heavy or gap-heavy background.

Red flags

While the collective talent level has obviously been a problem with the Jets’ offensive line, the main problem has been the unit’s durability. If the Jets had league-average health along the offensive line over the past half-decade, the unit wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue as it is now. It would still be below average, but it wouldn’t be a perennial joke that makes it nearly impossible to move the football.

With that in mind, could the Jets really justify choosing one of the league’s most consistently injured offensive linemen as their primary solution for the unit? New York would be doubling down on the unit’s most well-documented issue. As appealing as Smith’s talent is, the risk factor would be enormous if the Jets brought him in.

Picture the Jets signing Smith only for him to miss significant time and leave Aaron Rodgers protected by a backup-level tackle once again. Joe Douglas will be eviscerated by the media. Is Douglas willing to accept the risk of this possibility in exchange for the upside offered by Smith?

The verdict

It would be a swing for the fences on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded. Douglas would be sitting on the fastball against a pitcher who he knows is gutsy enough to surprise him with a splitter in the dirt. But Douglas wouldn’t care. He wants it all. The pre-pitch mindset would be to – no matter what – raise that front leg with a purpose, slam it in the dirt, and attack the ball with everything he’s got. Connect and it’s a grand slam. Miss and the only outcome is a strikeout.

That’s what signing Smith would be like for the Jets. And you can call me crazy, but I’m on board with it.

If there were safer options available in free agency, we wouldn’t even be talking about Smith. There aren’t, though. And that’s why I’m starting to think the Jets should just go all-in and roll the dice on the most talented player the market has to offer.

The Jets need at least one new starting tackle this offseason. It’ll be two if they want to keep Alijah Vera-Tucker at guard. Even if they want to move Vera-Tucker to tackle, can they really pin the other starting tackle spot on the draft? Hoping and praying the guy they want falls to No. 10?

It’s never smart to rely on the draft as your solution to filling a starting spot. You want to put yourself in a position where you’re prepared for any scenario the draft can possibly throw at you.

For this reason, it’s clear the Jets need to get at least one starting-caliber tackle before the draft.

If they don’t want to move AVT to tackle, they’ll have two starting spots open, making it an obvious necessity to add at least one. Even if they are open to moving AVT to fill one spot, they would still be wise to fill the other spot so they don’t have to constrict themselves in the draft.

That brings us to the available options on the veteran tackle market. If not Smith… who are you getting to fill this vital hole?

Trent Brown is a good player, although he isn’t an ideal scheme fit and has injury issues of his own. Mike Onwenu is intriguing, although there are questions relating to scheme fit, cost, whether he is a better player at guard, and the fact he has never played left tackle. Smith is also a flat-out better player, as Andrew Fialkow discussed in his film breakdown.

Outside of that… what are you left with? Jermaine Eluemunor? Jonah Williams? These players hardly move the needle for a team that is trying to win a Super Bowl. Don’t even bring up David Bakhtiari, who has injury concerns that exceed Smith’s and a contract that nobody should want to take on.

Signing Smith would be a huge risk. It could blow up in the Jets’ faces before the season even begins. But what better option do they have?

If all goes according to plan, Smith gives the Jets around 13 games of elite left tackle play and is ready to go for the playoffs. The Jets should sign up for that in a heartbeat that if Smith can be had on a short-term contract with limited promises beyond 2024.

After signing Smith, they would also have to make sure they emphasize finding a quality backup. The Jets should already be emphasizing that spot, but it would become doubly important after signing a player who is highly likely to miss multiple games.

Count me in on a Smith pursuit. He would immediately be the most talented tackle the Jets have had since Winston Hill. For that level of talent, I’d be willing to take on the injury risk if I were the Jets.

More specifically, I’d rather take that gamble than settle for someone mediocre – and that’s what the debate is. It’s either take a chance on Smith or sign someone who has a safer injury track record but just isn’t all that good.

This year’s tackle market is extremely weak, and for that reason, Smith is a worthy gamble, in my opinion.

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Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
4 months ago

If I’m Smith, I ask the Jets for a boatload of money. He knows he’s the best player in a thin market. Taxes in NY/NJ are WAY higher than in Texas. And with his injury history added to the Met Life turf, I’d say an injury is 100% certain. He also would be signing up to play for everybody’s favorite O line coach, Keith Carter. Known for not taking it easy on older players. He’s going to have lots of suitors. I’d say our chances of landing him are close to nil.

Last edited 4 months ago by Jonathan Richter
Psi
Psi
4 months ago

The key with pursuing Smith is the lack of viable alternatives on the FA market. Warren played ok enough down the stretch that they have to rely on growth from him. VT needs to finally stay at Guard. The Jets need to hit on an above average Guard to replace Tomlinson (who needs to be released), and the right OT with their first pick. They likely will have a shot at either Fuaga or Olu (if not both). Unlike the Wirf’s miss when they incorrectly selected Becton, I suspect both of these rookie OTs will be decent to above average.

dudizt
dudizt
4 months ago

Agreed, for those price tags I’m in. Cut Laken for the money and I’m ok with Carter Warren for 4 ish games backing up to see what he’s got.

besides 11-13 games out of a starting tackle is sadly an improvement over recent years

Jets71
Jets71
4 months ago

This could be the biggest dilemma for the Jets this off-season. If it’s 1 year at $7.5 million then this is a no-brainer, you sign him. Even at $10m, on a 2 year deal with some sort of games played incentive I’d be all in. I agree with you it’s worth the risk, I think signing him must come with the signing of James Hurst who has pro experience at LT, and can at least provide pass protection when Smith goes down.

I know this is difficult to believe but Brown didn’t have injury risks prior to signing with the Jets. If you look at his previous 3-4 years games played he was solid, of course came to the Jets and injured, but in that regard it’s not the same as Smith. Then again, the talent isn’t close.

I like Onwenu but as a guard, he’s not an OT, however I think he can be used at RT, but I don’t trust him at LT. Based on the way you’ve projected contracts the Jets could conceivably sign Smith, Onwenu, and Hurst, which would be a nice trio. It would allow the Jets to draft “best player” at 10 even if it’s an OT.

There are 2 versatile guys in the draft the Jets could target to add talent and flexibility, Graham Barton, and Troy Fautanu (who I like VERY much). They won’t have a draft grade as high as pick 10 but there would be ways to sign a guy like Smith and add the insurance needed so that the entire group won’t turn disaster when he gets hurt.

Last edited 4 months ago by Jets71
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