It wasn’t long ago that the Dallas Cowboys possessed one of the most talented and youngest linebacker duos in the NFL. That after having Leighton Vander Esch earn a Pro Bowl nomination as a rookie in 2018 and Jaylon Smith getting his own All-Star nod the year after.
Yet, despite both Smith and Vander Esch being just 25-years old, the Cowboys opted to acquire their potential replacements in the 2021 NFL Draft last month. That after Dallas traded back in the first round and selected Penn State’s Micah Parsons 12th overall. Then they used their first pick on day three to draft LSU’s Jabril Cox in the fourth round.
Despite the Pro Bowl bid in 2019 and having recorded the second-most total tackles (154) in the NFL last season, Smith’s declining play has been a lingering issue. And Vander Esch has struggled to stay healthy since his stellar rookie year, missing a combined 13 games over the past two seasons.
The latter is such a concern that the Cowboys opted not to pick up Vander Esch’s fifth-year option this offseason making 2021 a contract year for the young linebacker. And now there’s a report that Dallas placed Smith on the trade block during the draft last month.
According to Charlie Campbell, Senior draft analyst at WalterFootball.com, the Cowboys shopped Smith during the annual collegiate selection event, but there were no takers.
"“League sources say two players who were shopped around this year were Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson and Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith … Sources said a number of teams had their pro scouts look review Smith’s tape, but they did not like what they saw, so their organizations declined to pursue him in a trade.”"
Smith demonstrated he can play at a high level back in 2018, but has seemingly regressed ever since. Pro Football Focus has given his play a declining grade over the past two seasons resulting in a career-low 54.2 for 2020 despite his gaudy tackle numbers.
Back in October, Smith’s poor play made the MMQB’s Albert Breer write that he wouldn’t be shocked if the Cowboys parted ways with the fifth-yeat linebacker after the season. And if Campbell’s sources are accurate, Dallas attempted to do just that.
Complicating a possible trade is Smith’s current contract. Back in August of 2019, Dallas inked Jaylon to a massive five-year extension worth $64 million, including a reported $35.5 million guaranteed. This season, Smith is expected to leave a $9.8 million crater in the team’s salary cap according to spotrac.com.
With ESPN recently reporting that Jaylon Smith was willing to pay a mid-six-figure amount in order to buy out current inventory so he can change his jersey number from No. 54 to No. 9, it appears the veteran linebacker believes he’ll be a Dallas Cowboy for, at least, this season. And based on his recent performance and high-price tag, he’s probably right.