By Pete Baxter
The Dallas Cowboys are releasing 26-year-old linebacker Jaylon Smith on Tuesday, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday. This is a surprising move considering Smith will still be owed $7.2 million in base salary this season. Releasing Smith will create a $16.6 million dead cap hit to the team. He had five years, $50.75 million left on his contract.
Smith had played in 98% of the team’s snaps last season on a terrible Cowboys’ defense that ranked 28th in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed in 2020.
The 2021 season has been a different story, however. The Cowboys made upgrading their defense a top priority during the offseason, drafting linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round. Smith suddenly found himself on the outside looking in at the team’s linebacker rotation. He played less than half of the team’s snaps in two games so far this season.
Smith, despite his relatively successful career in Dallas for the past half decade, had become expendable. The Cowboys had reportedly been seeking a trade partner but had been able to find a deal up to this point. As a result, Dallas is moving to cut ties.
A True Talent on the Open Market
Smith is a surprisingly talented player to suddenly be available during the season. He brings a ton of positive attributes to the table. Smith was taken in the second round of the 2016 draft by the Cowboys after overcoming a brutal knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl late in his senior season. He rebounded to become an extremely reliable NFL player. Smith has never missed a professional game due to injury since returning to action in 2017.
Smith was a Pro Bowl selection in 2019. That year he recorded 142 total tackles (83 solo) along with 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. He kept up that productive pace last season, recording a career high 154 total tackles (89 solo), 1.5 sacks, one interception and two fumbles recovered. He recorded a career high 4.0 sacks during his sophomore season in 2017.
At the very least, Smith is an above average, viable starting linebacker. He is only available because the Cowboys see Parsons as a superstar in the making and thus their middle linebacker of the future.
Smith can provide a huge upgrade to a team in need of stability in their linebacking corps. Are you listening, Eagles’ brass?
The Eagles Should Act Now
Would there be a better story this year than a former Pro Bowl linebacker being cast off from the team that drafted him, only to be signed by a bitter rival and help that team challenge for the division? Granted, the Eagles potentially winning division at this point seems like a pipe dream. Smith could, however, provide a huge boost to a struggling Eagles defense.
Philadelphia’s defensive unit has faced several key injuries (headlined by lead pass rusher Brandon Graham being out for the season) and their linebacking corps has been perhaps their weakest group on paper.
The team has been completely unable to stop the run. Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard ran all over them two weeks ago for 155 total yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (who had struggled for much of the season) had a breakout game in Philly on Sunday (102 yards for 7.3 yards per carry). They’ve hardly been better against the pass, giving up a combined eight touchdown passes to Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott during those two games.
Jaylon Smith would walk in the door as the most proven linebacker on the team. He would have little problem earning the starting middle linebacker role. While 25-year-old T.J. Edwards has shown some potential, neither he nor Eric Wilson has shown anywhere near Smith’s ceiling so far.
Smith could instantly provide stability to the middle of this defense and help stop some of the bleeding for what is becoming one of the worst defenses in the league. Jalen Hurts balled out last week against the Chiefs with 387 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He helped the Eagles put up 30 points. It was still nowhere near enough to overcome this porous defensive unit that allowed 42 points to Andy Reid’s team. First-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon needs all the help he can get.
Make it so, Howie Roseman. More to come from Philadelphia.