On Wednesday, the Dallas Cowboys lost left tackle Tyron Smith to a hamstring injury in practice that, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, “could cost him multiple months of the 2022 season.” That Smith injury could be the catalyst for the Green Bay Packers to make a move out of left field: trading backup left tackle Yosh Nijman.
The Cowboys have posted an 18-15 record under former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, so far without a postseason win. Jerry Jones, Dallas’ hands-on owner, isn’t getting any younger and the pressure and expectation to win with quarterback Dak Prescott — who has missed games or played through injury for the better part of the last two seasons — is very real. Going into 2022, the Cowboys are the returning NFC East favorites, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles who earned the seventh seed in the NFC last year.
Mind you, this is the same Cowboys team that already lost right tackle La’el Collins — who had started 71 games for them since 2015 — as a cap casualty this offseason. Dallas was desperate enough for offensive line depth in the spring that they drafted Tyler Smith out of Tulsa in the first round to play left guard.
If you’re going to create a situation where a team ponies up the draft capital to trade for a high-level swing tackle like Nijman, it’s hard to think of a more perfect scenario than an All-Pro left tackle going down for a team in an offensive line transition with high expectations. When rumors about Sean Payton taking the Cowboys job next season are already swirling around, McCarthy and company can’t afford to sit back and just hope that they have built up enough offensive line depth to win a playoff game with three new full-time starters up front.
On the flip side, from the Packers’ perspective, what’s the point of versatility if you’re not going to use it? When their offensive line is healthier than it is now, Green Bay has options at left tackle beyond Nijman, as David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins have starting experience at the position and fourth-round rookie Zach Tom has taken reps at all four non-center positions this summer.
Sure, Bakhtiari and Jenkins have yet to practice in team drills so far during their rehab process, but they were activated off of the physically unable to perform list and the roster is constructed in a way that demands at least one of them will be healthy enough to suit up in Week 1. Assuming that the Packers are going to roster nine offensive linemen, which is likely the case following the trade of Cole Van Lanen to the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this week, Green Bay would only have seven offensive linemen active in Week 1 if Bakhtiari and Jenkins don’t get the green light to play.
There’s just no way that the team will go into their regular season opener three injuries away from tight end Marcedes Lewis playing an offensive line position mid-game. This nightmare scenario happened in 2014 when the Atlanta Falcons rostered just seven offensive linemen for a game and had to use tight end Levine Toilolo as a tackle after three in-game injuries. The team needs to go into games with at least eight guys suited up to play, meaning at least one of Bakhtiari or Jenkins will have to go in Week 1 for the Packers’ current roster construction to work out. If that’s the case, Nijman likely wouldn’t be the starting left tackle for the team in the opener anyway.
If Nijman, who started half the season at left tackle last year as an injury placement for Jenkins who was an injury replacement for Bakhtiari, is traded then the most likely candidate to be Green Bay’s ninth offensive lineman to make the team is Caleb Jones — an undrafted rookie who has been playing left tackle on the second-team offense this preseason. Jones’ father also owns a soul food restaurant in Indianapolis that’s worth a visit.
According to OverTheCap, the Cowboys are currently on pace to be $5 million over the NFL’s salary cap in 2023. This should make Nijman’s prospects even more enticing for Dallas, as he’s currently playing on a $965,000, one-year exclusive rights free agent tender and whoever holds his negotiating rights in the 2023 offseason has an opportunity to place a second-round tender on him via the restricted free agent process that should see him earn about $3.5 million on another one-year deal.
While it would have to come at the right cost, likely a third- or fourth-round pick, it’s worth thinking about Nijman as a player who could potentially be moved ahead of the league-wide cutdown to 53-man rosters on August 30th. Teams usually don’t have four tackles the way the Packers do right now and don’t need a left tackle like Nijman as bad as the Cowboys do following the injury to Smith, which could open doors that previously were thought to be closed.