The Dallas Cowboys have weighed this decision since Tyron Smith was drafted No. 9 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Just before the start of his sophomore NFL season, Smith has replaced the highly-touted Doug Free as the Cowboys’ left tackle, which was the original, long-term plan when he was drafted last April. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett made the announcement on Thursday.
Smith was the first offensive lineman drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft despite his “raw” label. Despite players like Mike Pouncey, Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo and Gabe Carimi who were considered more “ready” for the NFL, Dallas took Smith, whom the team believes has more potential than the others.
A guy like Carimi may have been better than Smith at the time of the draft, but he was believed to have already peaked as a football player. Smith, on the other hand, still has the sky as his limit.
Doug Free was one of the hottest names in football last off-season and the Cowboys awarded him a four-year, $32 million free agent contract after his stellar performances in 2009 and 2010. It must have been the money because he took a huge step backward 2011, allowing 10 sacks and 33 quarterback pressures while committing 10 penalties.
Free’s natural position is right tackle, but he was moved to left tackle after his breakout 2009 campaign and the Cowboys’ release of Flozell Adams. Free started all 16 games in 2010, elevating his play to elite status. Now that Free is back down to Earth, the quicker, nimbler Smith will protect Tony Romo’s blindside for the foreseeable future.