Dallas Cowboys: Jaylon Smith is more expendable than you think

Jaylon smith Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Jaylon smith Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Jaylon Smith is severely disappointing and if the Dallas Cowboys opt to move on, his contract offers some early ‘outs’.

To say Jaylon Smith has been struggling here in, what is essentially Year 4 of his Dallas Cowboys tenure, is a massive understatement. Four weeks into the 2020 season, Smith has been a permanent fixture on the Cowboys lowlight reel and has been outperformed by LB4 Joe Thomas in just about every way.

Locked in for the next five seasons, it seems odd that the Cowboys would be able to cut Jaylon anytime soon without suffering significant cap damage. But looking at his contract details closely, Jaylon’s more cuttable than many people seem to realize.

Jaylon’s Struggles with the Dallas Cowboys

From blown assignments, to breakdowns in coverage, to missed tackles, to physical limitations, and even to effort, Jaylon Smith has been a 5-tool poor player for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season (a cruel-hearted baseball analogy to show he’s the complete package of poor performance).

This is all said with a heavy heart as Jaylon Smith is admittedly one of my favorite players in college and the pros. And up until last season, he’s been a beautiful story of perseverance and triumph. But that was yesterday, and this is today, and unless things change, tomorrow isn’t looking good for Jaylon.

We saw the struggles start last season. Smith began the 2019 campaign stiff and out of position. The first few weeks of the season he and Leighton Vander Esch were one of the worst LB pairs in the NFL. As the season wore on, Jaylon started coming on. He didn’t reach that elite level he was at the previous season, but he improved significantly and eventually moved up to 18th in Pro Football Focus’ player ratings and earned Pro Bowl honors to boot.

The hope was Jaylon would build on that progress. And when paired with a healthy Vander Esch, he’d thrive in his new role as starting WILL. But any hope of LVE helping him, blew up shortly into Game 1 when Vander Esch broke his collarbone, forcing Jaylon back into an unideal role and again exposed to opposing offenses.

It’s not that Jaylon Smith has just fallen short of high expectations; it’s that he’s playing like one of the worst players, on the NFL’s worst defense. As such, he’s no longer a leader, but rather a liability. And if other options were available, he’d be losing snaps already.


The Dallas Cowboys have been tight-lipped (and misleading) with most of their injury updates this season, but all indications are Sean Lee and Leighton Vander Esch are expected to be back at some point this month.  Their return, combined with Joe Thomas’ stellar play, indicate time could be running out on Jaylon Smith.

The Dallas Cowboys aren’t as committed to the base defense as they’ve been in the past, so they don’t need to force their top-3 LBs on the field at the same time. That means when Lee and LVE are back, Jaylon could conceivably drop to No. 4 in snaps (also behind Joe Thomas).

As the second highest paid defender on the team, it’s hard to justify him losing snaps to either Thomas or Lee. But with the new coaching staff in place and no allegiances to fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy, the idea of giving the best man the job, regardless of reputation, isn’t inconceivable.

Jaylon Smith’s Contract

Complicating matters is Jaylon Smith’s contract situation. Only four weeks into a what amounts to a five-year extension, Smith isn’t as expendable as many wished he was. But looking at the details at Over The Cap, he’s also not as uncuttable as many of us think, either.

With a cap cost of $7.771 million this year, Jaylon’s dead money impact would balloon to $23.971 million if cut today. That’s too big to digest. But next season things clear up a bit and cutting Smith would actually offer a $400,000 savings (that’s with $9.4M in dead money).

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After the 2021 season, cutting him saves a whopping $5M! In other words, if Dallas wants to move on this winter they could cut him if they were open to eating his 2021 salary. And there’s virtually no reason to keep him beyond the 2021 season unless he significantly changes course. So the Dallas Cowboys aren’t quite as “stuck” as they seem.

It’s likely Jaylon Smith has only a couple weeks until both LVE and Lee make their way back. If he’s still playing as poorly then, chances are good he’s going to start losing snaps. And with those lost snaps go his opportunity to prove he’s worth the enormous sums of money he’s getting paid and could spell doom for his future with the Dallas Cowboys beyond the season.

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It’s time for Jaylon Smith is put up or shut up because the clock is running on his future with the team and even with a multi-year deal in place, Jaylon is expendable as soon as next year.

  • Published on 10/06/2020 at 12:14 PM
  • Last updated at 10/06/2020 at 12:14 PM