Dallas Cowboys: Does Jaylon Smith have a place on this team?

: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Dallas Cowboys inked Jaylon Smith to that 6 year, $68,421,000 contract two years ago, they probably had no idea they’d be sitting in position such as this. In August of 2019 Jaylon was coming off a brilliant breakout season where he and Leighton Vander Esch combined to form the best young linebacker duo in the league. Now? Jaylon looks like a giant mistake.

After signing linebacker Keanu Neal in free agency, and drafting Micah Parsons with their first pick in the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys are loaded at linebacker. With twice as much personnel than positions available, someone is going to be left on the outside looking in. That someone should be Jaylon.

To be fair, the Jaylon hate has been out of control the past year. With absolutely dreadful D-line play in front of him, there really wasn’t any way for a guy like Jaylon to succeed. He started playing hero-ball out of pure necessity and things snowballed.

The Dallas Cowboys shouldn’t feel obligated to play Jaylon Smith just because of his salary.

But even with the poor D-line, plenty of criticism going his way was still warranted.  Jaylon played undisciplined and sloppy. He failed in his run-fits, was late in his reads, and was plagued by physical limitations brought on by his knee condition.

Look at the chart above. That bottom left quadrat is not the place you want your highly paid LB to fall. The point is, Jaylon falls short in more ways than one.

In training camp and preseason this summer we’ve seen much of the same. Jaylon has seemingly missed his assignments and struggled with the demands of the position. He looks slow and plodding. Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, and even Leighton Vander Esch (who was considerably worse than Jaylon in 2020) look and grade far better at linebacker this year. Not to mention all three are far more physically able to execute the demands of the position.

just because the Dallas Cowboys can’t cut him, doesn’t mean he should be handed a key role on this team.

Even if Jaylon did everything right he’d be limited by his inability to change direction. He’s a liability in multiple phases and with so many premium options around him, it makes little sense for him to remain on the roster.

The problem is he’s due a tremendous sum of money.

Jaylon’s salary guaranteed on the fifth day of the NFL year, meaning Dallas will have to pay him. With his trade value roughly nil, there’s not much to be done until next season. But just because the Dallas Cowboys can’t cut him, doesn’t mean he should be handed a key role on this team.

Micah Parsons looks like a budding star in this league. He’s doing it all and needs to be on the field as often as possible. LVE may only be here one more season but he’s looking more like his rookie self these days and will command opportunities.

Keanu Neal, one of Dan Quinn’s guys, has been a star as well. In his 19 preseason snaps he’s earned a PGG grade of 97.9. A nearly perfect performance rarely seen. His camp play indicates it’s no fluke. Aside from a stretch of bad coverage against Dalton Schultz early, Neal has been arguably Dallas’ top LB.

The Dallas Cowboys shouldn’t feel obligated to play Jaylon Smith snaps just because he’s getting paid like it. Parsons and Neal are the clear starters who should dominate snaps and LVE can certainly cycle in if his play keeps trending up. But the ceiling is capped for Jaylon and it doesn’t make much sense to put him on the field if any of the other three are available.

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What would you do if you were in charge? Would you play Jaylon regularly even if he was your LB4 or would you feel obligated to cut or promote him?

  • Published on 08/17/2021 at 12:30 PM
  • Last updated at 08/17/2021 at 22:17 PM