Yesterday, Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith signed an enormous eight-year extension, valued at $110 million over 10 years. Today, Dallas is telling everyone that it guarantees Smith will be a "Cowboy for life." As we know by now, the numbers in NFL contracts are bullshit. But this is outrageous enough bullshit that it bears walking through.
After last season, Smith, who is 23, was already considered one of the best left tackles in the NFL; on paper, this new deal pays him the most remaining guaranteed money of any tackle in the league. That's great—kind of. In reality, that vanity sticker price of $110 million over 10 years, which in no way actually reflects what he will actually be paid or how long he will be with the team, restricts Smith's choices in the prime his career and will give the Cowboys a massive amount of control over Smith in just a few years.
ESPN's Todd Archer reported the year-by-year details of Smith's contract, which contains $40 million guaranteed including a $10 million signing bonus. (He'll make just over a million dollars this year because he is technically still on his rookie deal, but he'll pocket that $10 million now.) While that's a good chunk of guaranteed money, here's the important part: the seasons with guaranteed salary end after 2017. This means that after just three seasons, Smith will effectively be playing on seven consecutive one-year contracts, with no negative for the Cowboys if they decide to cut him apart from dealing with some salary cap housecleaning, depending on how they structure the signing bonus. "Cowboy for life," indeed. And as Archer points out, DeMarcus Ware, Terence Newman, and other players were supposed to be Cowboys for life, right up until they weren't.
But mealymouthed contracts that have no basis in the physical universe are standard for the NFL. What's really grating about this deal is how much worse it is than other top tackles'. Cleveland's Joe Thomas is generally seen as the best left tackle in the NFL, and was the highest-paid until Smith's new deal. In 2011, the Browns signed Thomas to a seven-year extension with $44 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus; the deal paid the lineman roughly $42 million over the first three years. Thomas is actually better paid than Smith over the first four years of their respective deals, and on average remains so until Smith reaches the ninth or tenth year of his deal—which, obviously, is far from certain. So, Tyron Smith is not the highest paid tackle in the NFL, but in the service of saying he is,
his agent he has tied seven years of shit job security around his neck instead of getting back on the free agent market in his 20s.
That's a bigger point than it might seem, because Smith's contract will also set the value for future left tackle deals. Minnesota's Matt Kalil and New England's Nate Solder will finish their rookie contracts after 2015, and if things go their way, they should raise the tide on lineman deals even further. Sucks for Smith. Say he plays out of his mind through 2017. He'll be missing out on the usual mid-20s raise, since the Cowboys don't have to negotiate. He'll just be there, until he's 33 and a lesser target, or until the Cowboys come knocking looking for him to "restructure" if he has an off year. Tyron Smith was good enough to get on his second contract—and thereby, get paid—earlier than most of his peers. But the masturbatory victory lap looks like it fucked him in the long run.