It's been a rough go lately for Jaylon Smith. The former second-round pick was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 5, as the team looked to avoid his injury guarantee for 2022, an amount that summed to roughly $10 million. Smith would immediately garner interest on the open market and sign two days later with the Green Bay Packers -- still viewing himself as "elite" and hoping to rebuild his brand on a defense desperate for help at linebacker.
But only 27 days later, the Packers have apparently seen enough and released Smith ahead of their Week 9 battle with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. The news comes after Smith was made a healthy scratch in the eventual win over the Arizona Cardinals, and he's now been released by two Super Bowl contenders in 29 days.
And despite the recent Francis Bernard from injured reserve as the replacement for Cox.) There's also the added aspect of wondering if the 26-year-old would want to return to Dallas, given the details of the divorce, and the fact he isn't a special teams weapon as Cox was, something the Cowboys would also require him to be. In other words, as it relates to Dallas' math, it doesn't add up any more now than it did prior to Oct. 5., sources tell CBS Sports they'd be "stunned" (as one specifically put it) if the Cowboys choose to double back for Smith, a player they were so hellbent on moving on from a month ago. (They're now viewing the return of
So although they're still paying him, it appears that ship has sailed -- barring a wildly unexpected change of heart (for both parties) and/or a setback in the return of Bernard. But the team also has a key special teamer in Luke Gifford who can also help replace Cox, along with a budding star in safety Jayron Kearse, who is being utilized as a linebacker in some big nickel packages.
Again, the math isn't mathing right now for any sort of reunion with Smith.
A former Dick Butkus Award winner at both the high school and collegiate level (nominated at the NFL level as well), the former consensus All-American overcame gargantuan odds to return to the field after suffering a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl ahead of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was rated a top-10 draft pick prior to the injury but fell out of the first round completely that April, and it was owner Jerry Jones and the Cowboys who decided to take a chance on him with the 34th-overall pick.
He'd eventually make his NFL debut in 2017 and went on to land his first-ever Pro Bowl nod two seasons later, but his play then became uneven and outright poor at times, fueled by several factors that included changes at the defensive coordinator position, with Smith being publicly vocal about his displeasure in how complex Mike Nolan made the playbook in 2020 -- Nolan's one and only season in Dallas. In replacing Nolan with a more capable and proven coordinator in Dan Quinn, the Cowboys also gave Quinn power to mold his defensive roster, and that led to the drafting of both Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox in the first and fourth rounds, respectively.
This instantly put Smith (and Leighton Vander Esch) on notice, as did the signing of Keanu Neal in free agency with the goal of converting him to linebacker. Smith saw only 16 defensive snaps in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before getting more playing time due to the broken foot of DeMarcus Lawrence, which moved Parsons to the defensive edge and freed up reps at linebacker. But once Parsons was moved back to playing mostly linebacker in Week 4, Smith's playing time was again drastically reduced.
So when the Cowboys approached him and asked him to waive the aforementioned injury clause, and he declined, they abruptly sent him packing -- seeing an opportunity to both clear the path for younger talent while escaping his contract. They were so determined in their mission that they wound up eating $7.6 million to release him, and that allowed the Packers to pay him the veteran minimum, seeing as the Cowboys were footing the bill for the remainder of his 2021 salary.
"He's a good football player. He's played excellent football here for a long time … but we have a [defensive] system, and 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," said head coach Mike McCarthy of Smith's release from the Cowboys. "This is about progress and a little more clarity of defensive packages and personnel groups and how we want to play."
It didn't take long for head coach Matt LaFleur to determine he wasn't a fit for them either, playing him in only two games on a combined 27 defensive snaps, and he delivered just one tackle in a Green Bay uniform. They've decided that while they need help at LB, Smith isn't the one to provide it.