As the contract saga between the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott continues to rage on, the franchise still has some interesting financial decisions to work out this offseason. Yes, they currently have a projected $19 million in salary-cap space per OverTheCap.com, but that is yet to figure in a Dak Prescott franchise tag or long-term contract.
They have options to restructure a couple of players that could help create even more cap space, but one of the ideas that's been floated around was nixed yesterday per a report from the Fort Worth Star Telegram's Clarence Hill.
A source told Hill that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of cutting Linebacker Jaylon Smith this offseason. A release of the once-promising linebacker would free up $7.2 million in cap space with a post-June 1st designation.
Smith was second in the NFL among linebackers in solo tackles per Pro Football Focus, but was just 10th in the league in stops. Pro Football Focus' “stops” metric considers the down and distance gained by the ball carrier when the tackle was made. It's the defensive version of success rate. If the tackler prevents the ball carrier from picking up 40% of the necessary yardage on first down, 60% of the necessary yardage to gain on second down, or 100% on third or fourth down, the player gets credit for a stop.
A tackle that allows nine yards on first down and a tackle that allows nine yards on third down but prevents the first down are weighted much differently.
Though he had just five fewer solo tackles and two fewer assisted tackles than league leader Zach Cunningham, Smith was 22 “stops” behind Cunningham, who led the NFL. Jaylon Smith made a lot of tackles in 2020, but it seemed a lot of them were already after the ball carrier gained significant yardage on the play.
It's an interesting decision by the Dallas Cowboys to put it out there that they have no intention of releasing Smith despite the decline in play since his breakout 2018 season. Perhaps they feel that if they upgrade the interior defensive line, Jaylon Smith and his running buddy Leighton Vander Esch return to form.
That's certainly a possibility. However, Smith's physical limitations at this point in his career have little to do with what's happening in front of him. Unless he improves his ability to diagnose misdirection and screenplays, teams will continue to use that blueprint to attack the Cowboys and Jaylon Smith.
The Cowboys certainly have other options for creating cap space and have little answers at the linebacker position if they moved on from Smith. However, they have to continue to look to improve their linebacker situation in 2021 and beyond. Jaylon Smith needs a bounceback season in the worst way, and the Dallas Cowboys need it too.