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Offseason | 2024

Mick Shots: Jets showing Tyron incentive money

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FRISCO, Texas – And now we find out why the Cowboys couldn't re-sign eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle and 2023 second-team All-Pro Tyron Smith, even if they wanted to.

And now we find out why, in his 14th season approaching the age of 34 on Dec. 12, Tyron could afford to bet on himself when signing this past Friday with the New York Jets.

The almighty dollar.

The eye-popping incentives.

Can't really blame him for moving on knowing a Hall of Fame career is inching closer to the end after pocketing $119 million in cash money from the Cowboys since becoming their 2011 ninth pick in the NFL Draft out of USC. The Jets took a page out of the movie Jerry Maguire by "showing him the money" in pursuit of upgrading protection for the aging Aaron Rodgers – if indeed the 40-year-old quarterback successfully returns from tearing his Achilles at the start of the 2023 season.

And this is why we always caution to wait for the fine print when initial contracts like Tyron's are disclosed, his reported to be one year, $6.5 million with incentives potentially driving the cost up to $20 million. That surely caused most out there to probably think, Why the heck did the Cowboys fail to match the $6.5 million guaranteed? Probably could have if they really wanted to, and they did if not for Tyron wanting more.

But … now comes the poison pill part and why Tyron decided to bet on himself, even if he has to move all the way to somewhere near the Jets' training facility in Florham Park, a good 30 miles from MetLife Stadium and closer to someplace called Morristown than Long Island.

Smith's Tier 1 playing time incentive package is worth up to $5.75 million if he plays 68 percent of the Jets' offensive snaps in 2024. But since Tyron played 71.5 percent of the Cowboys offensive snaps in 2023, that $5.75 million incentive is considered "likely to be earned," so the Jets have to add that to his base salary/signing bonus guarantee of $6.5 million for a one-year cap charge of $12.25 million.

No way the Cowboys could afford to take on that chance, an incentive-laced deal with six levels of play time between 38 percent and the 68 percent. Now, if Tyron fails to reach any of those snap levels, the Jets will receive cap rebates, but not until next year's salary cap.

And Tier 2 playing time incentives that start at 74 percent of snaps and increase to 98 percent at the top end, comes to another $6.25 million more that are considered "unlikely to be earned" since he did not reach those levels last season. Reaching those levels then would be added to the 2025 salary cap.

In essence, for the Cowboys to match this Jets deal they would have needed $12.25 million of cap space they don't currently have. And remember, because of previous restructure deals with Tyron, the Cowboys are accounting for $6 million in dead money this year. They just couldn't conscientiously take that chance on one player with so many needs and big-ticket items to negotiate going forward.

The Jets had an abundance of cap space at the time to take that chance. So could Tyron after already pocketing that $119 million in his career.

Oh, and there is another $500,000 incentive for making the Pro Bowl, which he didn't last year, and a potential $250,000 more per Jets playoff win that he didn't win last year.

Man, talk about showing Tyron the money.

  • Looking Back: Just a shame Leighton Vander Esch's NFL career comes to a close after six seasons because of neck issues. And good for him in making a wise decision to not test quality-of-life fate by pushing the envelope, now married and with the recent birth of his daughter. Causes me to think back to the spring of 2018 when first meeting the Boise State linebacker, so many of the potential first-round picks doing a workout and interviews outside of AT&T Stadium that week. Took one look at this 6-4, 255 pounder, heard him talk during an on-field interview and the guy was oozing quality NFL linebacker. Thought to myself, I want that guy. Cowboys thought so, too, drafting LVE with the 19th pick in the first round. Led the team with a Cowboys rookie record 176 tackles in 2018 and became the first franchise rookie linebacker to earn Pro Bowl honors. Then in 2019 was beset with the first of his neck problems, needing fusions surgery for a bulging disk. Then a broken clavicle in the 2010 opener caused him to miss the next four games and the final two with an ankle injury. Then the sobering stinger five games into the 2023 season, causing him to eventually make this long-term decision to retire. Good guy. Good family. Ought to make a helluva coach if he wants to go that route.
  • Running It Back: Finally, the Cowboys made a move at running back, inexpensive as it was, re-signing backup Rico Dowdle to a one-year deal, guaranteeing the going-on 26-year-old $200,000 as part of his one-year, $1.255 million package. Be interesting to see what the fifth-year undrafted back out of South Carolina might now do if healthy and given the opportunity to carry the ball more than his career-high 89 times in 2023. He rushed for 361 yards and two electrifying touchdowns, along with catching 17 passes for 144 yards and two more scores. Sure, the Cowboys likely will add an experienced back and a draft choice to this current five-man room, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones saying as much: "I see us not just fixing it with one player at the running back position, but with more than one player." But Dowdle will be an interesting candidate, since 2023 was only his second year to be active in his career.
  • Et Tu, Johnathan: On Tuesday, in the time it took me to drive home from here in the afternoon, the Cowboys lost another unrestricted free agent – veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins signing with Seattle, surely at the behest of former Cowboys defensive line coach Aden Durde, now the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. No pun intended but losing out on the 320-pound run-stuffing defensive tackle they were interested in re-signing leaves a huge hole in the middle of the defensive line. After losing Neville Gallimore, too, the Cowboys now have at defensive tackle only Osa Odighizuwa, Mazi Smith, Chauncey Golston and last year's fourth-round draft choice Junior Fehoko, who never played a snap. Got to post another "Wanted" sign at this position too.
  • Extra, Extra: The Cowboys began free agency with 16 unrestricted free agents, now having re-signed four (Jourdan Lewis, Rico Dowdle, Trent Sieg, C.J. Goodwin), having lost eight and with four still unsigned (Stephon Gilmore, Jayron Kearse, Sean McKeon, Chuma Edoga) … Yep, the Michael Gallup June 1 release will save the Cowboys his $8.5 million base salary against the salary cap that they won't receive until June 2, but they will eat nearly $14.0 million in dead money, $5.3 million of it this year and $8.7 million next year, and have a hole at the third receiver spot … While the Cowboys converted Dak Prescott's $5 million roster bonus into restructure signing bonus. Only $1 million of that counts this year but the other $4 million owed gets stuffed into four voided contract years … And finally, shoutout to recuperating teammate Nate Newton after he underwent double-knee replacement surgery, maybe giving him a chance to now finish those 110 conditioning tests he probably still owes Jimmy Johnson from back in the day.

And in case you might have missed them, let's take an excerpt from Leighton Vander Esch's medically induced retirement farewell statement issued earlier in the week, going to great lengths to thank his wife Madalynn, the Cowboys training, strength and conditioning and equipment staffs, giving a special thanks to the late strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul, who passed away late in the 2020 season, the Jones Family, his trusted agent Ron Slavin and finally the Man Above.

"You have given me a new healthy baby girl and a wife that follows you," the 28-year-old Vander Esch wrote. "Without trusting in your unwavering love and guidance, I know I wouldn't have made it this far. You have blessed me with the ability to become a Dallas Cowboy and for allowing me the privilege of a six-year professional football career.

"I strive to let you work through me in this next chapter to continue to impact people's lives and to be a light in this world."

Go on, young man, in peace.

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