Even before the offseason officially began, we knew 2021 was going to be a big prove-it year for Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith. That notion only increased as the Cowboys continued to add talent at the position. First, they signed Keanu Neal in free agency. Later, they added one of the best defensive prospects in the NFL Draft when they took Micah Parsons at pick #12.
Jaylon Smith – 26-years-old – has a contract that runs through 2025. However, the Cowboys could let him go after the 2021 season without any major impact on their salary cap situation. Right now, unless something changes, one could expect this to be his final year on the Cowboys.
After the Oxnard portion of training camp and two preseason games, Jaylon Smith appears to be falling on the Cowboys’ depth chart. From what we’ve seen, we can expect rookie Micah Parsons to be the top dog in Dallas’ crowded LB room.
Parsons is clearly the best athlete of them all and has learned a little bit of everything during the offseason. He’s even worn the green dot sticker on his helmet, which indicates the one player on the field with “Coach-to-Player” radio communication. Coming out of college, one of the biggest concerns regarding Parsons had been his skills in pass coverage. So far, he’s looked the part in his limited NFL playing time.
Behind Parsons, the Cowboys’ depth chart at linebacker is a little bit blurry. Keanu Neal has had a lot of playing time alongside Parsons in third-and-long situations and fans should expect to see a lot more from the former safety.
Despite the fact that the Cowboys didn’t pick up Leighton Vander Esch’s fifth-year option, the former 2018 first-rounder is also above Smith on the Cowboys’ depth chart. Leighton is having a strong training camp and he’s flashed a newfound speed in the preseason.
Meanwhile, Smith is struggling in the same areas he has in the past couple of seasons. Consider the play below, in which Smith is challenged versus Arizona Cardinals RB Chase Edmonds.
The Athletic’s Bob Sturm said it best: “If Smith takes the quarterback, it is an easy reception. If he takes Edmonds, maybe McCoy runs for an easy first down. What if he takes neither? What if he is so slow in his read and reaction that he is essentially playing the role of a traffic cone?”
It’s one play, of course. But watching Jaylon Smith play slow football has become the norm since 2019. Little by little, the Dallas Cowboys have had to find out that 2018 was the exception for Jaylon.
The Dallas Cowboys gain little by letting him go this season as his salary was guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. However, the coaching staff will have to avoid being tempted to play the “new #9” more than they should just because of his $9.8M cap number for the season.
At this point, the reality is that Smith shouldn’t be fighting LVE, Parsons, or Neal for playing time but rather fifth-round rookie Jabril Cox. We’ll see if the Cowboys don’t let the “politics” influence their decision-making.
Featured image via Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports