On Tuesday night, the Dallas Cowboys announced the shocking release of star linebacker Jaylon Smith.
While on the surface this decision doesn’t seem to make much sense, follow-up reports have started to shed some light on the reasoning behind this move.
The Cowboys are still on the hook for the $7.2 million remaining on Smith’s 2021 contract, but by dropping him now, the organization avoids paying him his $9.2 million base salary in 2022 (guaranteed even with an injury). Dallas hoped to get this move accomplished by way of trade, but they were never able to get a deal done.
Sources within the Cowboys organization said that Smith “did everything we asked him to,” but the improved play of other players on the defensive roster ultimately forced their hand, per NFL insider Jane Slater.
Can confirm. My sources tell me the #Cowboys tried unsuccessfully to trade Jaylon Smith. “He did everything we asked him to” but ultimately the play of guys like Keanu Neal, Leighton Vander Esch and I’m told perhaps increased use now of Jabril Cox led to the move bc of ⬇️ https://t.co/2YkPjxS6Ij
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) October 6, 2021
From 2018-2020, Smith played more than 92 percent of defensive snaps for the Cowboys. In 2020, that figure reached 98 percent, per ProFootballTalk.
But now that the Dallas defense has added some new young talent, Smith’s usage has dropped drastically. Since the drafting of first-round linebacker stud Micah Parsons, the LB veteran has played fewer than 50 percent of defensive snaps through four games.
While Smith has been a reliable defender throughout his five-year career (never missed a game), the Cowboys clearly felt the risk of having to pay him in 2022 regardless of his status was too much — especially with talent like Parsons, Keanu Neal and Leighton Vander Esch already on the roster.