Life comes at you fast, especially in the NFL, as Jaylon Smith can now readily attest. The veteran linebacker went from taking part in and enjoying the Dallas Cowboys victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 4 to looking for a new NFL home for Week 5 -- having been notified of his pending release on Tuesday evening by owner Jerry Jones himself. It didn't take long for the former Pro Bowler to find new digs, having now reportedly joined the Green Bay Packers on a one-year deal, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, but questions surrounding his abrupt departure in Dallas ring out in the aftermath of the decision.
In speaking with sources with knowledge of the situation, CBS Sports was able to answer all of those questions this week, but it would inevitably come time to hear explanations from the Cowboys front office and coaching staff. First to the podium on the matter was head coach Mike McCarthy, who explained his stance on the move once it became official.
"There are multiples factors that go into these decisions," McCarthy said on Wednesday. "That was definitely the case with Jaylon. Just a lot of things to go through, but at the end of the day had a chance to visit with him last night. I'm very thankful for my time with him here.
"We talked about his experience here in Dallas. We just felt this was the best time to make this decision. Obviously, there is never really a good time for these type of decisions. Basically, with all of the factors involved is why the decision was made yesterday."
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McCarthy stopped short of identifying what those multiple factors were, though, instead pointing at the grand scheme for the Cowboys defense under coordinator Dan Quinn -- one that has now seen a huge infusion of new talent at linebacker. The team fielded trade interest for Smith in late spring/early summer but opted to retain him as insurance heading into the season, but once they decided it was time to move on, they began shopping him for trade but the offers were no longer there.
That led to his release in October, but the divorce has been a possibility for months now.
"I'm not going to get into all of the specifics of it," McCarthy said. "I mean, this is a big picture roster move. As far as us moving forward, I just felt this was the right time. ... I mean, you're evaluating roster all the time. We had an extensive personnel meeting yesterday and we talked through every, single player on the roster. Frankly, that's a normal process. Once again, it was a big picture roster move and we felt this was the time to do it.
"He's a good football player. He's played excellent football here for a long time … but we have a [defensive] system, I think it's clear now after four games how we're playing and we just felt with all the factors involved that this is the decision that we needed to make."
Smith was a popular player within the Cowboys locker room, as evidenced by the reaction of some following his release. While it's not a move that will fracture the morale of a team led by Dak Prescott, it will admittedly serve as a reminder of just how much of the NFL is actually a business. The decision to release Smith isn't being used as some sort of teaching tool by McCarthy, but rather an indicator of what the 3-1 Cowboys are trying to build going forward.
"I think it's just like anything, I mean that's a constant conversation you're having with your [player] leadership council," McCarthy said. " ... I think the direction of how we're approaching this season, the ability to develop a roster, top to bottom, particularly with the young players, I think is clear. You think of how we've gone about it the first four games, so yeah I'm not trying to send a message to the locker room.
"That's not where we are. We're building on getting better every day. We've had some success the last couple of weeks. We have an excellent opponent coming in here.
"This is about progress and a little more clarity of defensive packages and personnel groups and how we want to play."
Those personnel groups, led by rookie first-round pick Micah Parsons, will now presumably include a lot more of rookie fourth-round pick Jabril Cox and Keanu Neal, the latter returning to practice on Wednesday from the COVID/Reserve list in the corresponding roster move to Smith's release. And for Cox, it'll be about stepping up quickly to join the other impressive talent from the 2021 draft class, particularly considering his presence helped drive the decision to let Smith walk -- sources also noted on Tuesday.
And the Cowboys decision to not simply keep Smith around to ride the inactives list was a no-brainer, considering they wanted to do him the favor of having a chance to quickly find another NFL home, as opposed to forcing him into a possible disgruntled situation that could potentially infect the locker room dynamic in some way. A clean cut was the recipe here, and for a myriad of explained reasons, and Smith will now get a fresh start in Green Bay, while the Cowboys officially toss the keys to their LB room to the new class.
It's full steam ahead for McCarthy and Quinn.
"Once again, it wasn't an easy decision, but it's a decision that we made and we're moving forward."