Jaylon Smith

Cowboys Sign Damontae Kazee

The Cowboys have agreed to terms with free agent safety Damontae Kazee, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter). Veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson says it will be a one-year deal (Twitter link).

Kazee visited with Dallas yesterday, and even though he followed through on his plan to visit the Lions today, it didn’t take him long to strike an accord with the Cowboys. Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Cowboys’ medical staff was satisfied with Kazee’s recovery from the Achilles tear he suffered in October, and once he passed that test, Dallas was quick to extend a contract offer.

Dallas has been looking for a true free safety for a long time, and it hopes it has found what it’s looking for in the 27-year-old Kazee, whose 10 interceptions from 2018-19 were tied for the most in the NFL. The fit was a good one, as the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, was Kazee’s head coach for the first four years of his career in Atlanta, and secondary coach/pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. was his position coach in 2020.

Kazee follows longtime Falcons teammate Keanu Neal from Atlanta to Dallas, so Quinn will have several familiar faces at his disposal. Interestingly, Kazee got his first real chance to start at safety due to Neal’s season-ending injury in early 2018, but Neal is expected to play some linebacker in Dallas, and Kazee clearly feels he will have enough snaps to re-establish himself as a ball-hawking playmaker in the defensive backfield.

In addition to Kazee, the Cowboys auditioned Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker yesterday. The club ended up signing Kearse, and with Kazee now in the fold as well, Hooker will probably need to look elsewhere for his next opportunity.

On a related note, Ed Werder of ESPN.com says that Neal’s double-duty role as an LB/S hybrid could eat into linebacker Jaylon Smith‘s snaps, but that Smith’s roster spot is not in jeopardy (Twitter link). That jibes with a report that was published late last month.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Not Planning To Cut Jaylon Smith

Faced with the prospect of franchise-tagging Dak Prescott for a second straight year, and doing so at a $37.7MM rate, the Cowboys are in a crucial stretch now that the window for applying tags is open. The team currently has less than $20MM in cap space.

While restructures will surely commence, the Cowboys do not intend to release Jaylon Smith to create additional cap space, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Shedding the linebacker’s contract would call for less than $1MM saved — in a non-post-June 1 cut scenario — against a $9MM dead-money hit. But if the Cowboys were to designate Smith as a post-June 1 release, they could save $7.2MM this year.

Dallas included Smith in its spree of 2019 extensions, re-upping the linebacker on a five-year, $63.75MM deal. Despite entering the NFL after a severe injury that caused him to miss his 2016 rookie season, Smith became a three-down linebacker with Dallas. Pro Football Focus graded the Notre Dame product as the Cowboys’ top off-ball ‘backer last season, slotting him 45th overall. That ranking provides a partial summary of one of the worst defenses in Cowboys history, and changes should be expected now that Dan Quinn is in charge. Smith and Quinn have already spoken since the former Falcons HC took the Cowboys DC job, per Hill.

Smith led the Cowboys with 154 tackles last season and totaled 142 in 2019, doing so as Leighton Vander Esch battled injuries in both seasons. The Cowboys have Vander Esch signed through 2021. While they can pick up Vander Esch’s fifth-year option by May to lock him down through 2022, the injuries Smith’s three-down linebacker mate has suffered cloud his future compared to where his stock resided after a standout rookie year. Drafted two years apart, Smith and Vander Esch are both 25.

The Cowboys, who have Smith signed all the way through the 2025 season, have until March 9 to tag Prescott. With no other quarterbacks expected to be tagged, Prescott’s tag could run more than $20MM higher than any other 2021 tag. Needless to say, the Cowboys are pushing to extend their quarterback before the tag window closes rather than have that $37.7MM number on their books going into free agency. The sides have been at this for two years now, but the upcoming tag deadline raises the stakes for the Cowboys to avoid the Washington-Kirk Cousins path.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC East Notes: Eagles, Washington, Staff, Vander Esch

While the Eagles are not officially holding out hope Brandon Brooks can return late in the 2020 season, they have not shut that prospect down. They placed the Pro Bowl guard on the PUP list, rather than injured reserve. Lane Johnson said his longtime teammate is ahead of schedule and can see him returning from his latest Achilles tear before the season ends, Tim McManus of ESPN.com tweets. Brooks recovered from a January 2019 Achilles tear to return in time for Week 1 last season. Following the same timetable, Brooks could conceivably be in play for a late-December or January re-emergence. As players like Terrell Suggs and Michael Crabtree showed during the 2010s, an offseason Achilles tear is not an automatic season-ender. Of course, Brooks is carrying a bit more weight and suffered his injury later in the offseason. Longtime Eagles left tackle Jason Peters is currently manning Brooks’ right guard position.

As the NFC East teams begin their padded training camp practices, here is the latest from the division:

  • Doug Pederson is back at work after contracting COVID-19. The fifth-year Eagles HC was the third known coach to test positive for the coronavirus, following Sean Payton and Anthony Lynn. Unlike the Saints and Chargers coaches, Pederson, 52, was asymptomatic.
  • Leighton Vander Esch has been playing a new position at Cowboys camp. The third-year linebacker has swapped spots with Jaylon Smith, with Vander Esch now playing middle linebacker and Smith shifting to the weak side, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes. Both players are set to reprise their roles as Dallas’ three-down ‘backers. The Cowboys changed defensive coordinators this offseason, moving from Rod Marinelli to Mike Nolan. Vander Esch is returning from offseason neck surgery.
  • Washington made a historic business-side hire, naming Jason Wright as team president. A former linebacker who played seven seasons with the Falcons, Browns and Cardinals, Wright is the NFL’s first Black team president and the fourth former player to be named to such a post. While the 38-year-old exec will succeed Bruce Allen, his responsibilities will be exclusively on the business side, John Keim of ESPN.com notes. Washington remains without a nominal GM.
  • The Cowboys will have a new voice in their quarterbacks room, at least for training camp. Seneca Wallace is working with Dallas’ QBs as a training camp staffer, Jon Machota of The Athletic tweets. Wallace joins fellow recent NFL passers Kellen Moore and Scott Tolzien on the Cowboys’ staff. Like Tolzien, Wallace spent time in Green Bay during Mike McCarthy‘s run.

East Rumors: Cowboys, Patriots, Copeland

The Jaylon Smith extension tethers the emerging linebacker to the Cowboys through the 2025 season, and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes the deal will give 24-year-old standout $19MM fully guaranteed at signing. Both this figure and Smith’s AAV ($12.5MM) place him sixth among off-ball linebackers, giving this pact a win-win feel for the Cowboys and a player who recovered from a serious injury to move into lucrative extension position.

Smith will be 30 by the time this contract expires but will only be 27 by the time the guarantees stop in 2022. The deal contains a $5.17MM base salary for 2020, which is fully guaranteed, and a $7.2MM base for 2021. This contract includes injury guarantees for both Smith’s 2021 and 2022 base salaries — $7.2MM and $9.2MM, respectively — and those become full guarantees on the fifth day of each year. Additionally, the deal contains a $500K de-escalator, Florio adds. This will take effect if Smith fails to show for 90% of Dallas’ offseason workouts.

The Cowboys still have the same four key UFAs-to-be as they did to start the week — Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones and La’el Collins — and Ezekiel Elliott remains a holdout. But the team checked off a key piece of its complicated contract checklist in locking down Smith, who would have been a 2020 RFA.

Here is the latest from the East divisions:

  • More good news for the Patriots‘ wide receiver situation. Demaryius Thomas came off the active/PUP list, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com tweets. This marks a key step for the former Pro Bowler. Thomas is not a lock to make New England’s 53-man roster and can no longer be stashed on the team’s reserve/PUP list to start the season. With Thomas unlikely to play in New England’s fourth preseason game, he has a short time to prove he belongs on the final roster. But the Pats taking him off their PUP list leads NESN.com’s Doug Kyed to project the 31-year-old target will be one of the 53-man unit’s receivers.
  • Josh Gordon‘s return obviously strengthens the Pats’ receiving corps, but it will make their roster crunch more difficult. Gordon, Thomas, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, rookie Jakobi Meyers, Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris will not all be on the Pats’ 53-man roster, and Ben Volin of the Boston Globe looks to have Harris on the wrong side of the bubble (Twitter link). The former Redskins auxiliary cog signed with the Pats in free agency and impressed early in camp, but he’s dealing with a leg injury presently. The recent developments involving higher-profile players may push him back to free agency.
  • Brandon Copeland issued a denial in knowingly taking a banned substance, via Instagram. While this could be expected, given how post-PED fallouts usually unfold, the Jets linebacker is out four games. This further thins out the Jets’ edge defender crew, which was already a weak spot for the AFC’s Big Apple franchise. Copeland registered five sacks last season.

NFC Notes: Cowboys, Compton, Fales

When announcing the new extension for linebacker Jaylon Smith at a press conference today, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sent a clear message to a few other high-profile players who are eligible for extensions. Jones said, via Jon Machota of The Athletic, “[t]he team takes precedent at a point over the opinion or the demand of the individual. The team takes precedent. This was a team move we are talking about today. The team takes precedent. And I’ve got the backbone to keep it that way” (Twitter link).

Obviously, that statement suggests that Jones is going to hold firm on the offers that have been extended to Ezekiel ElliottDak Prescott, and Amari Cooper, and as we detailed earlier today, Smith’s extension looks relatively team-friendly. Jones did say that there is “enough pie left” to get deals done with all of them, though he did not have an update on negotiations with the trio.

Let’s check out more from the NFC:

  • Free agent linebacker Will Compton will work out for the Saints, as John Keim of ESPN.com tweets. Compton, who played for the Redskins from 2013-17, was a full-time starter as recently as 2016. However, his 2017 campaign was marred by injury, and he played only 79 defensive snaps for the Titans last year in his first and only season in Tennessee. He would provide experienced LB depth in New Orleans, and he could also contribute on special teams.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press examines the Lions‘ backup QB situation, noting that presumptive QB2 Tom Savage missed his seventh straight practice on Tuesday (Savage is in the concussion protocol). That has meant more reps for David Fales and Josh Johnson, but Birkett says the Lions are unlikely to carry three QBs. So if Savage cannot be medically cleared by next Saturday, he could be cut. Fales looked sharp in the team’s last preseason game while Johnson struggled, so Fales may have a leg up if Savage can’t get healthy.
  • The 49ers fear that rookie wide receiver Shawn Poindexter suffered a torn ACL in Monday’s preseason win, as Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area writes. Poindexter, a UDFA from Arizona, appeared to be a prime practice squad candidate, and the club has already signed WR/KR Chris Thompson to take Poindexter’s place on the 90-man roster.

Cowboys Sign Jaylon Smith To Extension

The Cowboys have reached a long-term extension with linebacker Jaylon Smith, sources tell Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). Smith has been vocal about his desire for a new deal, and he’s got one in place with days to go before the regular season.

Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that it’s a five-year, $64MM pact (Twitter link), but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Smith was under contract for about $1.3MM this year and would have been eligible for a restricted free agent tender in 2020, and the extension did not subsume those amounts. So, as Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets, Smith is now playing under a seven-year, $69.7MM deal, and Smith will be under club control through 2025. David Moore of the Dallas Morning News tweets that the extension does include $35.5MM in guaranteed money, but it looks like a fairly team-friendly pact overall.

Still, it’s a good day for Smith, who recently said that he never wants to play for another team. “I want to be a Cowboy. I want to be a Cowboy for the rest of my life,” Smith said last week. “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.”

Indeed, the Cowboys took a gamble on Smith by selecting him in the second round of the 2016 draft. When he was healthy at Notre Dame, Smith was viewed as a top 10 pick. However, severe knee injuries caused his stock to plummet. At the time, it was speculated that Smith could drop like a stone due to medical concerns, but the Cowboys rolled the dice and pounced on him with the No. 34 overall choice.

Smith missed all of 2016 and played mostly as a part-timer in 2017. Then, last year, he came back with a vengeance. Smith 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. Between Smith and 2018 first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch (No. 4 on PFF’s 2018 linebacker performance list), the Cowboys have one of the NFL’s best three-down linebacking duos.

Of course, there’s still plenty of work for the Cowboys in the coming days with Dak PrescottEzekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper all eligible for extensions.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jaylon Smith Wants To Stay With Cowboys

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.

Smith does not want to take the free agent route. The emerging dynamo expressed a desire to stay with the Cowboys throughout his career.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jaylon Smith Confident He Will Get Extension From Cowboys

Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith turned in an excellent campaign in 2018. He started all 18 of Dallas’ regular and postseason games, and he piled up nearly 140 tackles in the process. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus loved him, as he graded out as PFF’s sixth-best LB in the league and was lauded for both his coverage skills and his run-stopping abilities.

As such, team owner Jerry Jones said back in May that an extension for Smith would be in the cards. But the last we heard, no extension discussions had taken place, and since Smith will be a restricted free agent next offseason, there is theoretically no rush for the club to jump into negotiations. Indeed, a report last week indicated that Dallas would tender Smith at the second-round level in 2020, which suggests that contract talks may not begin in earnest until this time next year.

Smith, though, is not sweating it. During an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk), Smith expressed confidence that he would get a new contract from Dallas. He said, “[w]hen it’s time for [Jones] to cut the check, it will happen. I just have to embrace where I’m at. I’m blessed for sure.”

Indeed, Smith is now far removed from the devastating ACL/LCL injury that he suffered in the last game of his collegiate career, which turned him from a surefire top-five pick in the 2016 draft into the No. 34 overall selection. Last season, he showed why college scouts were so high on him prior to that fateful Fiesta Bowl, and if he reprises his 2018 performance in 2019, it would not be difficult to imagine another team signing Smith to an offer sheet that Dallas cannot match if Dallas only uses a second-round tender on him. In that scenario, the signing team would only have to forfeit a second-round draft choice, which is not too high of a price for a young and uber-talented ‘backer.

The Cowboys are likely about to fork over some serious coin to Dak PrescottAmari CooperEzekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones, but if they wait too long on Smith, the Notre Dame product could price himself out of their range. As of right now, though, neither side seems too concerned.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Notes: Prescott, Cooper, Elliott, Collins, Smith

The Cowboys are fortunate to have a lot of young talent. But one downside that comes with having a lot of young talent, is that sooner or later you have to pay them all. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper are all looking for extensions, and Dallas is going to have to break the bank. Prescott is likely looking to top what Carson Wentz just got, meaning he’ll demand $30MM-plus annually. Quietly, there have been some rumblings that the team isn’t in any rush to extend Elliott. It makes sense because Elliott has the most time left on his deal, but it’s interesting nonetheless. There’s been a lot of concern about how they’ll fit all three players under the cap, but Calvin Watkins of The Athletic writes that you shouldn’t be concerned.

Talking about those key three as well as safety Byron Jones, Watkins writes that the team is “optimistic they can take care of all of them.” Watkins says that the Cowboys did in fact put Elliott on the back-burner before, but that’s no longer the case. “The team no longer believes they can wait on extending him in 2020,” as he could get too expensive by then, Watkins writes. They’re now going to try to lock him up this summer as well, and Watkins does some of the math that shows they should be able to squeeze them all in. Watkins does admit there could be some possible complications, but everything seems on track for the Cowboys to be able to extend all their guys.

  • While the aforementioned four players can all expect to be taken care of, the same can’t be said of offensive lineman La’el Collins. Watkins writes that Collins “could be one player out the door,” in order to make room for the extensions in future years. Collins “is due for a new contract next spring, but Cowboys officials are expected to let him test free agency,” Watkins reports. The team’s right tackle, Collins has started all 16 games each of the last two seasons, so this would be a big departure. Although he’s been reliable, the team has never seemed too enamored with him, so this isn’t shocking. Collins is still only 25 and will be seeking a massive contract next offseason, and it sounds like he could get priced out of Dallas’ range.
  • In the same piece, Watkins also has some news on linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith was the 34th overall pick in 2016, and normally a 2016 second-round pick would be scheduled for unrestricted free agency next offseason. But because of language in the CBA, Smith will have only accrued three years of service time once this year is over. Smith, of course, was inactive his entire rookie season due to a serious injury suffered toward the end of his college career. Because of this, Smith will be a restricted free agent next spring. A source told Watkins that “the team is expected to place a second-round tender on him.” That means the Cowboys will be able to match whatever offer Smith gets from a team, and if they let him walk that team would have to give Dallas their second-round pick. Most teams aren’t willing to pay that price, which means the Cowboys will likely get Smith back at a discount next year.
  • In case you missed it, Elliott won’t be suspended by the league.

Cowboys Notes: Elliott, Frederick, Prescott

Travis Frederick is tentatively on track to return to the Cowboys’ starting lineup after missing the 2018 season due to an illness discovered late last summer. The perennial Pro Bowl center has been present for Cowboys workouts thus far this offseason, but Guillain-Barré Syndrome and offseason shoulder surgery were not the only medical issues the seventh-year veteran has dealt with recently. He also had a procedure done to address a hernia issue, Calvin Watkins of The Athletic notes (subscription required). This was not as serious as a sports hernia, though, so it should not be too much of an impediment to a Frederick return. While Frederick has returned to partial work with his teammates this year, Watkins notes the Cowboys do not expect him to participate fully until training camp. In the event Frederick cannot recover in time, 2018 starter Joe Looney remains an insurance policy. Third-round rookie Connor McGovern has also received center time.

Here is the latest out of Dallas:

  • Ezekiel Elliott was involved in an incident with a security guard in Las Vegas over the weekend. Las Vegas police officers observed the Cowboys running back push a security staffer to the ground at approximately 3 a.m. Sunday, Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News tweets. Officers then placed Elliott in handcuffs, but the victim did not press charges, Hairopoulos adds (via Twitter). Elliott was released without being arrested. The incident will not play into the Cowboys’ extension discussions, whenever they begin, executive VP Stephen Jones said (via Todd Archer of ESPN.com, on Twitter). The team is gathering information.
  • Despite Jaylon Smith being mentioned as a player the Cowboys would like to lock up long-term, no extension discussions between the Cowboys and the fourth-year linebacker have begun, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. Unlike Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Byron Jones, Smith can be controlled via RFA tender in 2020. The Cowboys would be expected to place a second-round tender on the linebacker, Hill adds. Smith’s stay on the NFI list as a rookie created this path to restricted free agency, rather than unrestricted free agency, after four seasons.
  • Stephen Jones brought up the prospect of some of his team’s extension candidates taking less money because of the endorsement opportunities that come with playing for the Cowboys. But Watkins adds Prescott is not expected to do a team-friendly deal. “It’s not their job to manage the cap; I understand that,” Jones said. “But it is my job and Jerry’s job, so they will understand why we’re negotiating hard to make the very best deal we can, because the money, if we can talk them into not maxing out – doing well, but not maxed – then that allows us to have other good football players around them.” Watkins estimates Prescott soon signing the richest contract in Cowboys history, projecting a deal worth between $120-$130MM — which would make it a likely four-year pact — containing north of $70MM in guarantees. This jibes with what we’ve heard about Prescott’s potential price.