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Dallas Cowboys Release LB Jaylon Smith in Surprise October Move

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Image by Smiley N. Pool / Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Cowboys officially have moved on from linebacker Jaylon Smith after ESPN broke the news on Tuesday that the team planned to release the veteran defensive player. Smith has seen his role decrease due to the emergence of Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch in recent weeks. The Cowboys reportedly tried to arrange a trade but could not find a suitor willing to take on Smith’s contract cost.

According to NFL Network, there was not a single incident that led to the release. Instead, the decision came about due to the gameplay of other Cowboys, including Keanu Neal and Jabril Cox. At the same time, several injured defensive players are set to make their on-field return in the coming weeks.

Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy addressed the decision on Wednesday. While he said it “wasn’t an easy decision,” it was a “big picture roster move.”

“We felt this was the time to do it,” McCarthy said. “He played good football for us. In my time with him, he totally bought into the new direction of the program and everything we’ve done. The guy practices every single day and plays his ass off. I have nothing but respect for him.”

Fox Sports 1 Reporter Mike Garafolo reports that sources within the organization indicate that Smith’s contract, signed ahead of the 2019 season, played a factor in his release.

“A trade isn’t likely because the #Cowboys have already explored that option, sources say, and he has the balance of his $7.2 million base salary for this season plus $9.2 million in injury guarantees next year. The latter part is a huge reason the team is moving on right now,” Garafolo posted on social media.

NFL Network reporter Jane Slater has confirmed that the Cowboys wanted to rid themselves of a guarantee that would have protected Smith’s base salary of $9.2 million in 2022 if he were injured and unable to pass a physical. Slater claims sources told her that Smith refused to renegotiate his contract.

As it stands, Dallas will pay Smith the remainder of his $7.2 million base this season. Smith had surgery on his wrist following the 2020 season, which triggered the injury clause in his contract guaranteeing his salary for the year. Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac.com reports that if a team signs Smith, any new income he makes will be subtracted from the $5.6 million guaranteed money from his contract with the Cowboys.

One factor in releasing Smith has been the outstanding play of young players around him and the roster’s depth. In 2020, a season that saw massive attrition due to injury on the defense, Smith was on the field for nearly 98% of snaps per Cowboys Nation. This season, he has appeared in fewer than 56% of snaps.

The Cowboys see an increase in playing time for Jabril Cox, and McCarthy reported this morning that Cox and Keanu Neal, who are returning from the Covid list, will get more playing time. At the same time, Parsons is anticipated to move back to linebacker after serving as an edge rusher in recent weeks.

“This is about progress and a little more clarity of defensive packages and personnel groups and how we want to play,” McCarthy said. “He obviously had a great career here, obviously has very strong ties to the organization and obviously the Dallas community.”

Smith signed a six-year, $68 million contract in 2019 with the Cowboys. He was a second-round draft pick in 2016 but sat out his rookie season rehabbing from a torn ACL, and MCL suffered in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.