Aldon Smith had a remarkable comeback season in 2020, going from a five-year absence from the NFL to posting five sacks in 16 starts for the Dallas Cowboys. Smith is set to become a free agent in 2021 and Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones has made it clear he wants Aldon to continue his story with the Cowboys.
Once one of the best pass rushers in the league and with a career trajectory that would have fast-tracked him to Canton, Aldon Smith allowed personal issues to derail his career. Suspensions and other issues led to him leaving the game after the 2015 season and after a few years he fell off of most radars.
But Smith put in the work to get his life in order and attempt an NFL comeback. The Dallas Cowboys have rarely met a redemption project they didn't like, so Aldon got that chance here and put in a surprisingly productive season.
After 2020 ended, Jerry Jones's public comments left little question about he perceives Smith:
“It's inspirational to see a man like Aldon Smith have the comeback here that he had. He played some outstanding football for us. He certainly was more positive than not, and I think he can take this year and build on it, and we want him to build on it to the benefit of the Cowboys.”
Smith's name will be among the top free agents for the Cowboys in 2021. While Dak Prescott will certainly dominate the headlines, Aldon may be right below him over the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Sean Lee, Xavier Woods, and Tyrone Crawford.
Dallas will have some tough decisions to make as they work to get Prescott either signed to a long-term deal or franchised for a second season, either of which is an expensive proposition. Depending on what he's looking for in free agency, Smith could price himself out of the Cowboys' plans.
Another potential deterrent for Aldon returning to Dallas is that fellow comeback kid Randy Gregory was equally impressive in 2020, plus is younger and already under contract for next year. With other young DE prospects like Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, and Ron'Dell Carter also on tap for 2021 the Cowboys may feel that Smith is ultimately expendable.
There is no denying that Aldon, now 31, will never be the player he was before the long absence. And given his production trailed off after an early burst in 2020, perhaps Dallas would be better focusing on younger options with more upside.
But it's also reasonable that Smith's shelf life was extended by such a long removal from the NFL and putting those miles on his body. As Jerry said, he could potentially build on what we saw in 2020 with another offseason of conditioning and getting his body and mind fully back into football shape.
So no, the Cowboys won't be destitute at defensive end if they don't re-sign Aldon Smith. But if Smith does have more to give to the NFL and can be even better than what we saw in early 2020, then Jerry Jones is smart to want that to happen in Dallas.