FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys will be without seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith for the rest of the season.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Smith will undergo surgery next week to fix a neck issue that has bothered him over the years and forced him to miss two of the first four games this season.
“I’ve been told it’s a correctable surgery,” McCarthy said. “If he doesn’t have this surgery, he’ll just continue to deal with this in the manner of how this season has gone. I mean, this is something that needs to be done.”
Smith played every snap in last week’s loss to the Cleveland Browns after going through two limited practices. When he had more soreness after the game, Smith sought a second opinion, and the decision was made to undergo surgery.
Smith, 29, missed just one game in his first five seasons. He has missed at least three games in each of the past five seasons with knee, back, elbow and neck injuries.
“I haven’t talked timelines or timetables,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, just my communication has been with our medical staff, our athletic trainers and most importantly Tyron. I think it’s just important he gets the surgery. He wants to get it as soon as he can and he wants to get to work on the rehab process.”
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch underwent a minimally invasive procedure on his neck in the offseason to help with a stenosis issue, but McCarthy would not say whether Smith has a similar issue.
Brandon Knight started the two games Smith missed at left tackle and has worked there this week in practice. Undrafted rookie Terence Steele has started every game at right tackle with La’el Collins out for the year because of hip surgery, but he was pulled in favor of Knight last week.
Cameron Erving is eligible to come off injured reserve this week after suffering a knee injury in the season opener. The Cowboys have Greg Senat on the active roster and recently added veteran Jordan Mills, who has 84 career starts, to the practice squad.
Guards Zack Martin and Connor Williams could also be tackle options. In the Week 3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Martin moved to right tackle when Steele was unable to continue to play because of a stomach bug.
“We’re always going to try to put our best players out there that we think are ready for the challenge,” McCarthy said. “It’s not as much as to what’s the personnel grade or the perception of where they rank. There’s a lot that goes into this. You have eight offensive linemen that play. Obviously you want to have the five that play with the highest level of cohesiveness and connection and communication, so that’s something you continue to work on. … It’s important to try to get to a five that can build that consistency because it’s so important at the offensive line unit to have the same five working together every single day.”
When McCarthy was named the Cowboys’ coach in January, he had Smith and Collins at tackle and Pro Bowler Travis Frederick at center. Frederick retired in the offseason, and his replacement, Joe Looney, is expected to miss the next two to three games with a knee injury, putting rookie Tyler Biadasz in the starting lineup.
“It’s life in the NFL. It just comes at you in different ways,” McCarthy said. “The unfortunate part of this game is players have injuries. But when they all come at the same position this quickly, it is [difficult], because we’re always starting that season where you’re trying to get the young guys to close that gap with your experienced players. And just to have the volume of losing your top three tackles this quickly, it makes the challenge a little tougher. But with that, it’s so much more rewarding. We feel good about the progress that all of our guys are making, and we’re looking forward to getting out there Sunday and competing and winning the game.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reacted to the Smith news on 105.3 in Dallas: “Tyron has done any and everything he could possibly do with his condition to play, as witnessed by the fact he had 88 snaps last week. So he’s doing everything he can do. The facts are that he’s a 10-year veteran, and this surgery at this time — not after the season but at this particular time — is important for the rest of his career.”