As gridlock continues on the Cowboys’ top tier of extension candidates, other key starters wait as well. Jaylon Smith profiles as a unique member of the latter group, with his 2016 rookie season delaying his service-time clock. The fourth-year linebacker is set for restricted free agency at season’s end.
“I want to be a Cowboy. I want to be a Cowboy for the rest of my life,” Smith said, via The Athletic’s Jon Machota (on Twitter). “Understanding what they’ve done for me, taking a chance, taking a risk. Now they’re getting the return on their investment. It’s a beautiful thing to be a Dallas Cowboy.”
The former Notre Dame star has successfully recovered from the severe knee injuries that threatened his career coming into the 2016 draft. He graded as the league’s No. 6 off-ball linebacker last season, per Pro Football Focus, making a career-high 121 tackles and registering four sacks. Smith and 2018 first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch (No. 4 on PFF’s 2018 linebacker performance list) comprise one of the NFL’s best three-down linebacking duos.
By virtue of his 2016 spent on the Cowboys’ NFI list, Smith is due to be a 2020 RFA. The Cowboys would be expected to place a second-round tender on him. But he is extension-eligible now, joining Dallas’ big three (Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper), Byron Jones and La’el Collins in that regard. Smith, 24, expects a Cowboys extension at some point.
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