Tyron Smith has been not only one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, but one of the best offensive players, since he was drafted ninth overall in 2011.

Smith, who spent the last 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, was named to the Hall of Fame 2010s team. He is an eight-time Pro Bowler, twice was a First Team All-Pro selection and was a Second Team All-Pro honoree three different times, the most recent being 2023.

The Cowboys have always been much better with their 6-foot-5, 320-pound mountain of a man on the left side. He has been impenetrable when healthy. But unfortunately for Dallas, Smith started to take the field less and less in recent years. He suffered from a slew of serious injuries including to his neck, back, hamstring and elbow. Those injuries are why Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2015, his fifth in the league.

After playing out an eight-year contract extension signed in 2014, Smith is likely to hit the open market and unlikely to return to the Cowboys, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. Archer on Saturday reported Smith and the Cowboys are on “different ends of the salary spectrum.” He played on a revised one-year, $6 million deal in 2023.

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Less than 24 hours later, MassLive’s Mark Daniels, Chris Mason and Karen Guregian reported the Patriots are expected to pursue Smith when free agency opens.

New England badly needs to improve its offensive line, especially its left tackle position with impending free agent Trent Brown likely not returning after a roller-coaster tenure. Smith might be the best option on the open market. Again, his talent speaks for itself.

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However, the Patriots would still be wise to proceed with caution.

It would not be smart to throw top-of-the-line money at the 33-year-old Smith. Smith is coming off a season in which he played 13 games — he hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season since 2015. His injury history has impacted his dependability, and Smith doesn’t exactly align with New England’s rebuilding process.

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It’s important to note this is not to say the Patriots should stay away all together.

Spotrac projects Smith’s market value to be a one-year, $7.4 million deal. Pro Football Focus projects he receives a one-year, $10 million pact. The Cowboys would be foolish to let Smith walk out the door for that — and there’s a reason to believe owner Jerry Jones won’t let it happen.

If the Patriots could land Smith on a one-year deal, they would be wise to do so. Any team would. But who knows if that is what Smith actually agrees to. There are a lot of teams who need offensive line help. The fact the tackle class isn’t deep in free agency could mean Smith benefits from a bidding war.

If that proves to be the case, that’s where the Patriots should operate with a blinking yellow light. A short-term holdover would be a fine idea, perhaps even a great idea to protect a potential rookie quarterback. But New England shouldn’t count on Smith to be their solution at the position for years to come.

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Featured image via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images