OXNARD, Calif. Not much has gone right with the Jason Garrett era. He has an overall 29-27 mark and three consecutive 8-8 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
But there is no denying Garrett has tried to do the right thing the right way, starting with his first draft pick when he officially took over as head coach in 2011.
As far as starters are concerned, Garrett knocked it out of the park with the selection of tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Smith has been everything the Cowboys anticipated. They rewarded him with an eight-year contract extension, worth $97.6 million, making him the league's highest paid offensive tackle with an average of $12.2 million a year.
Add in the final two years of his rookie deal and Smith's package is worth $109.7 million, including a $10 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed money.
It's the biggest contract in franchise history for a non-quarterback and one that keeps Smith, who doesn't turn 23 until December, in a Cowboys uniform until 2023.
It's fitting for Garrett, who calls Smith a cornerstone player for the franchise _ one that they targeted from the beginning. Smith was the first offensive lineman drafted in the first round by the Cowboys since 1981.
"We talk about building a program and building a football team and he was the first player that we took three years ago in that draft," Garrett said. "He's just been everything we've wanted to build this program and this team around. His work ethic is fantastic. His mental and physical toughness are as good as I've been around. He just continues to grow and develop as a player. Technically, he's getting better. He's getting bigger and stronger. And he's just tough, competitive. He's what you want on your football team at a really, really important position."
Smith, in his fourth year out of USC, is coming off the best season of his career when he allowed just one sack and made the Pro Bowl for the first time. He played right tackle as rookie before moving to left tackle in 2012. He has started 47 of 48 games since his rookie season.
The Cowboys have been talking to his agent since the spring about a contract extension in hopes of getting one done before the start of the season. Smith said things began to come to fruition late last week as he weighed the options of taking a long-term or short-term deal.
"After careful consideration, I decided this long-term deal was exactly what I wanted," Smith said in a statement. "Over the past three years, the Cowboys organization and Jones family have helped me through trying times and I felt this was my opportunity to return the gratitude. I am beyond grateful for the Cowboys staff, my teammates, and the fans, and wanted to ensure I was locked in as a "Cowboy for Life". I want to thank everyone for their support and look forward to having a star on my helmet for the remainder of my career."
Vice-president Stephen Jones said Smith deserved to be highest paid left tackle in the league. But he said it was a good deal for the player and the Cowboys, considering his largest base salary of $13.5 million will come in year 10.
“One thing that wasn’t an argument was that we thought that, based on his skill and based on his age, Tyron deserved to be the highest-paid left tackle. It was just how we were going to go about doing it," Jones said. "We were able to get something that I think works for everybody. Tyron deserves it. He’s 23 years old, and it may be the first 10-year deal I’ve ever done in football where I think the guy will be playing in the last year of his contract. I hope it’s 10 Pro Bowls later.
“We just think he’s a cornerstone of this franchise. Obviously, the left tackle in the NFL is key, very key, for keeping (quarterback Tony (Romo) – which is another big investment we have in this team – keeping him upright. He’s the anchor for our offensive line. He’s the leader."
Now the Cowboys can turn their contract focus to wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is also coming off a Pro Bowl season and heading into the final year of his deal. The Cowboys have a little less than $10 million in cap room available because of the cap-friendly nature of the Smith deal.
Only $1 million was added to Smith’s 2014 cap hit. It increased from $3.976 million to $4.976 million, leaving enough space for Bryant and to add another free agent pickup if necessary.
"We’re working hard to do something with Dez," Jones said "We’re totally committed to making Dez a Cowboy for life as well.”