November 2nd, 2021 at 11:57am CST by Zachary Links
The Packers are cutting linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Smith joined the Packers just a few weeks ago, but he’s back on the market and free to sign with any club.
Smith, 26, earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2019 with 154 tackles, good for the second-highest total in the NFL. He was still productive for the Cowboys this year too — the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus pegged him as a top-15 linebacker through four weeks. Still, the Cowboys opted to cut him and eat the remainder of his $7.2MM base salary.
Smith’s Packers tenure will end after just two games and a single tackle with Green Bay. The Panthers and the Washington Football Team were both said to be in on him in early October, so either one of those clubs could circle back. Smith may also make sense for the Steelers, who have just traded Melvin Ingram to the Chiefs for a Day 3 draft pick. The Steelers are reportedly eyeing defensive line help, but it couldn’t hurt to beef up elsewhere in the front seven.
The Packers, sans Smith, will ride a seven-game winning streak into this week’s game against the Chiefs.
With the Cowboys still on the hook for Smith’s $7.2MM base salary this season, the Packers landed the sixth-year defender for the league minimum. This amount to a recruiting competition instead of a bidding war, but Schefter adds Smith was interested in joining both the Panthers and Washington.
Smith’s relationship with Packers HC Matt LaFleur mattered here. Despite LaFleur coaching Notre Dame’s quarterbacks for just one season (2014, when Smith was a sophomore), Schefter notes he and Smith have kept in touch throughout Smith’s career and the relationship moved the needle. Smith did not suit up for Green Bay’s Week 5 game in Cincinnati, marking his first absence since Week 17 of his injury-redshirt rookie season, but will obviously be on track to contribute soon.
The Panthers have been busy on the trade front already, acquiring corners Stephon Gilmore and C.J. Henderson. They are looking for offensive linemen as well. Carolina moved Jermaine Carter into a three-down role alongside Shaq Thompson at this season’s outset. Washington used a first-round pick on Jamin Davis this year. He has played a part-time role thus far, with Cole Holcomb serving as a three-down ‘backer for the struggling WFT defense. The Cowboys had used Smith as a three-down player for years, but they reduced his snaps this season after making key offseason additions at the position.
Of course, Smith will still collect $7.2MMM in salary from the Cowboys. Before his release, the Cowboys asked Smith to waive his injury guarantee for 2022 (Twitter link via Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). He declined, prompting the Cowboys to cut him loose.
It all worked out for Smith, who figures to see a larger role with another NFC contender and some additional coin. And, with a strong year, he’ll see a huge payday in March. Smith, still just 26, was a Pro Bowler just two years ago. That year, he racked up 154 tackles, good for the second-highest total in the league. Meanwhile, the advanced metrics are still high on his work — Pro Football Focus ranks him as a top-15 linebacker at the one-quarter mark.
It’s a strong pickup for Green Bay, especially after they missed out on Stephon Gilmore. The cornerback was set to reach free agency on Wednesday morning, but the Patriots traded him to the Panthers instead. Trading for Gilmore would have meant taking on $5.8MM in base salary this year; Smith comes at a fraction of the price. He also figures to thrive under the tutelage of Matt LaFleur, who coached him at Notre Dame.
“Nothing’s official yet, but I go back a long time with Jaylon,” said LaFleur (via ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky). “I’ve always had a lot of respect for him, not only as a football player but as a man. He was one of my favorites when I was at Notre Dame. I just think a veteran guy who’s played at a really high level and just can bring kind of a mentality and leadership to our defense.”
Jaylon Smith wasn’t out of work for long. Days after his release from the Cowboys, the linebacker has agreed to a one-year deal with the Packers (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero).
Terms of the contract are not yet known, but it’s likely a low-cost deal since the Cowboys are still on the hook for Smith’s $7.2MM base salary.
Smith, a former second-round pick, was slowly being displaced by rookies Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox, as well as Keanu Neal this year. But, before that, he was a shining star for Dallas. Smith made the Pro Bowl in 2019, and his 154 tackles last season finished behind only the Texans’ Zach Cunningham. And, through four games this year, Pro Football Focus has him slotted as a top-15 linebacker.
The Notre Dame product figures to play a key role in Green Bay’s defense, alongside fellow 2016 draftee De’Vondre Campbell. As of this writing, the Packers’ ranks 25th in yards allowed per game and 16th in points allowed. Smith will try and help the cause starting Sunday when the Packers face the Bengals.
5:09pm: This may not be a done deal just yet. While the Packers are in discussions, Smith has not informed them of a commitment, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com tweets. Other teams are still pursuing the sixth-year veteran, though Demovsky adds the Packers are the favorites. Still, Smith is believed to want to play in Green Bay, Rapoport adds (on Twitter). That may still be where this is headed, but the process is not finished.
4:32pm: After news of the Packers’ interest in Jaylon Smith surfaced, it appears the linebacker is planning to head to Wisconsin. The Packers and Smith are finalizing a contract, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
The Giants and Eagles may have had Smith on their radars, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but the former Cowboys defender is expected to land in Green Bay (Twitter link). Smith and Matt LaFleur were both at Notre Dame in 2014, when the former was a sophomore and the latter the Fighting Irish’s quarterbacks coach. LaFleur remains high on the linebacker.
The Packers did win a bit of a bidding war for Smith, but with the Cowboys paying most of his 2021 salary, Rapoport notes this amount to more of a recruiting battle (Twitter link). After spending time in the northern Midwest in college, Smith will head back to Big Ten country. The Cowboys are on the hook for Smith’s $7.2MM 2021 base salary. Despite losing ex-Packer Blake Martinez for the season, the Giants are not believed to have expressed strong interest, Dan Duggan of The Athletic tweets.
Smith made the Pro Bowl in 2019, and his 154 tackles last season finished behind only the Texans’ Zach Cunningham. Still in his age-26 season, Smith has graded as a top-15 linebacker this year, per Pro Football Focus, and should be set to see extensive time on Green Bay’s defense. The Packers have seen mid-offseason addition De’Vondre Campbell deliver thus far; the ex-Falcons and Cardinals starter is averaging 10 tackles per game. Green Bay will have another 2016 draftee join him soon. Campbell went in the 2016 fourth round; Smith — due only to the severe foot injury he suffered in that year’s Fiesta Bowl — lasted until Round 2.
One of the league’s Super Bowl contenders is going after Jaylon Smith. While other suitors are believed to be in the mix, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes the Packers are making a push to sign the former Cowboys linebacker (Twitter link).
Matt LaFleur spent a season at Notre Dame during Smith’s tenure, his 2014 sophomore slate, and remains high on the accomplished defender. The Cowboys released Smith on Tuesday night. LaFleur coached the Fighting Irish’s QBs in 2014.
Green Bay has not been especially high on making splashy moves at its off-ball linebacker spots, but the team has turned to the midlevel free agent market multiple times in the past two years. The Packers signed Christian Kirksey in 2020 and, after releasing him this year, added De’Vondre Campbell.
Despite coming into the league in 2016, Smith is still just 26 and grades as Pro Football Focus’ No. 13 off-ball linebacker through four games. It would certainly add up if multiple teams made strong efforts to sign him. Green Bay holds just more than $7MM in cap space, which ranks 12th in the NFL.
Campbell has proven effective for the Packers thus far, having made 40 tackles in four games and intercepting a pass. He grades as PFF’s No. 4 overall linebacker, though we are still without too large of a sample size. Green Bay also has second-year man Krys Barnes on its defensive second level. Barnes missed Week 4 with a concussion.
Smith spent the past four seasons as a Cowboys starter. Despite a severe foot injury sustained in his final Notre Dame game, the former second-round pick has not missed an NFL game since sitting out his rookie season. Smith produced three straight 120-plus-tackle seasons in Dallas, topping out at 154 in 2020. That total ranked second in the NFL. Dallas, however, hired a new defensive coordinator and changed up its linebacking personnel by drafting Micah Parsons in the first round and signing Keanu Neal. This led to Smith becoming a marquee in-season free agent.
The Cowboys are moving on from a former Pro Bowler. The team is releasing linebacker Jaylon Smith, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter).
The Cowboys will still be responsible for paying the $7.2MM that Smith is owed in 2021, and the team is going to be eating an additional $9.8MM in cap with the move (per ESPN’s Field Yates on Twitter). That chunk of cap comes via Smith’s 2022 injury guarantees, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (on Twitter), and that significant chunk of money is a big reason why the Cowboys were unable to find a trade suitor. Smith will be eligible to sign with a new team starting tomorrow afternoon.
Despite being relegated to a backup role in 2021, Smith had been playing pretty well for the Cowboys through the first month of the season. The linebacker had started two of his four games this season, collecting 18 tackles. However, after appearing in 104 defensive snaps in Week 2 and Week 3, Smith was limited to only 28 defensive snaps in Week 4.
The 2016 second-round pick evolved into one of the Cowboys most dependable defensive players during his stint in Dallas. He started each of the Cowboys 48 games between 2018 and 2020, including a 2019 campaign where he collected 142 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles en route to a Pro Bowl appearance. However, the play from teammates Keanu Neal and Leighton Vander Esch (as well as a potential increased role for Jabril Cox) made the veteran expendable.
Other than a weak Week 4 performance, Smith has been more than serviceable this season, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ 11th-best linebacker through the first four weeks (via Twitter). A linebacker-needy team will surely be happy to add the new free agent to their squad.
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.
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.
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 Smithto 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.
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.