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March 21st is a Big Day for Ezekiel Elliott & Jaylon Smith’s Job Security

Two of the heaviest hitters on the Dallas Cowboys’ 2021 salary cap are Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Linebacker Jaylon Smith. But while frustration about their performance last season abounds, the notion that one or both could be released this offseason has never been realistic. Today, that idea truly goes out the window.

Based on the language in their contracts, both Zeke and Jaylon’s base salaries for 2021 become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. That new year started on Wednesday with the opening of free agency, so Sunday, March 21st is that fifth day.

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A couple salaries are scheduled to be locked in this weekend for Cowboys. If LB Jaylon Smith remains on roster Sunday, his $7.2M salary in 2021 becomes fully guaranteed. If RB Ezekiel Elliott remains on roster Sunday, his $12.4M salary in 2022 becomes fully guaranteed.

This doesn’t really move the needle much for Elliott. Even without the base salary guaranteed, Zeke’s $13.7 million cap hit for 2021 wouldn’t have been helped one bit with $24.5 million in dead money still left on the deal.

In other words, Dallas would have lost cap space if they’d cut Elliott outright. Even making him a June-1st cut wouldn’t have offered any cap relief. 2022 is the first real opportunity to do anything with Zeke’s contract.

Jaylon Smith isn’t so secure this year. While an outright release is only worth $400k to the Cowboys’ cap, making Smith a June-1st cut would create $7.2 million in cap space for 2021 and push $6.8 million in dead money to next year.

While we never love kicking dead money down the road, this is a year when it could be more sensible. The 2021 salary cap was reduced in response to lost revenues during COVID-19, but that could easily change in 2022 and beyond after the NFL’s major, new television deal.

An $7.2 million in 2021, even though it would only become available after June 1st, would still give Dallas valuable funds to pay their rookie class, make some late-offseason free agent signings, and address any other roster business.

But once the base salary becomes guaranteed today, any benefit to cutting Jaylon Smith in 2021 is gone.

I’ve never thought Jaylon would get released. Still just 25 and having already flashed star potential, Smith’s one of those guys the Cowboys are hoping will be fixed by Dan Quinn’ arrival as defensive coordinator.

Even with Keanu Neal being added and reportedly considered for a linebacker role, there are still plenty of snaps for Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and others at the position. And especially given Vander Esch’s injury history, can you really afford to lose Jaylon with LB depth already an issue?

So no, Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t getting cut in 2021 and Jaylon Smith probably wasn’t either. But after today, their contracts will make it virtually impossible,

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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  1. Signing them over Byron Jones is still one of our biggest blunders in a long time. Id even go to say resigning Cooper was a bad deal over Jones given how loaded last year and this years WR group are

  2. Ur right JUSTIN- signing Zeke/Smith set this franchise back. Jerry would never allow Zeke to be benched, so we will have lived with mediocre RB production for 3 plus years while paying that mediocre RB big money for poor production. And Jerry publicly proclaimed that he was our best player? That’s Jerry doing what he does best, which is blowing smoke and talking up his mistakes.

  3. Your show was cancelled. Only 1 story we talk in Cowboy country Superbowl or bust. Look at every former player and current under Jones Championship Management, salary history, he pays the most, he never lets his players down. Ever.

    So he deserves Superbowls more than any other owner, and our team has a duty and responsibility to deliver! This year every year.

  4. Byron Jones allowed 10.6 yards per target and 17.6 yards per completion, both worst among starting cornerbacks in 2020. His two interceptions are misleading; he set a career low with just three pass breakups and 42 tackles and tied his career high with 10 broken and missed tackles, and his 82.5% deserved catch percentage was the highest SIS has recorded for him as well. Jones was names most disappointing CB in 2020 by Football Outsiders and not paying him 82.5M was one of the smartest moves the Cowboys have made over the past few years.

  5. I mean I would cut both of them Bcs we got pollard and he did pretty good he rushes like a bull with seek he hestaites and go’s witch I don’t like jaylon is probably going to be replaced with kneau Neal so ethier way they are both good deceiisions

  6. Just bc you have a bad year shouldn’t mean you lose your job….#55 has been a bug disappointment ( injuries .. Missed tackles…over running plays..etc ) J.Smith was the 2nd leading LB in tackles in the entire NFL …# 55 stays hurt too much….now aa far as Zeke is concerned.. Yes. !!! He had a fumbling issue early on in the season but he runs hard..he blocks n catches the ball….im glad we didn’t release him bc we are going to need him if we are going to contend for a chip…. I love pollard but he’s no Zeke….he might have a quick burst but we need both ….once we get our O – Line back…..BIG THINGS ARE Going to HAPPEN !!!!!!!

  7. The team was very smart by signing both Jalen and Zeke. No one could have predicted that Lamb would’ve fallen to the Cowboys. DaMarcus Lawerence and Sean Lee are the most overate and under performing players on the roster! Cut them instead.

  8. Zeke and jaylon good. LVE is still young. We need OL depth cause the offense was down to 4th QB. So we need another DL as well to generate pressure on opposing QB. Dak needs to win games in November and December where playoffs are decideed. Zeke has 2 rush titles. So one bad year and y’all ready to cut him. Y’all don’t understand football.

  9. Amazes me how all you wannabe GMs think you know so much but the crap that comes out of your mouth only shows how clueless you are. You do realize Zeke was running behind a 3rd string O line for most of the year don’t you or did you idiots forget that. He also ran against a defense that stacked the box more often than not after Dak went down so look at the facts before you talk crap. Now come at me.

  10. John Berry- I’ll bite but I’ll keep it respectful. Yes Zeke was running behind a poor OL most of the year and yes that affected the performance of every player on offense. BUT when you make that kind of money and are considered by Jerry to be the best player on the team (which is laughable) by the way, much more is expected of you. Even when he had daylight or a hole to run thru, he clearly lacked burst or quickness or speed. Could count on one hand how many times he broke into the secondary.

    Now remember he did have covid and perhaps that contributed to his poor performance. I sure hope so. But covid ( or the OL) didn’t make him drop easy passes all year or fumble more then any RB in the league. But again hopefully covid influenced his play and he can have a bounce back year. We can’t afford another year like last year from him.

  11. And O-Line doesn’t have to do with how his production has steadily gone down over the past 3 seasons , let’s face it , outside of some rare air RBs , those who are all time great , RBs don’t last in the NFL , Todd Gurley was just in MVP conversation like 3 seasons ago , now he’s washed up and can’t even be traded by the Rams , they cut him and now he’s in Atlanta, the Rams get Akers , who do you think is better at RB now , Rams or Atlanta ?

    What’s to say Zeke won’t end the same way ?

    I hope Zeke can rebound , but it’s looking bleaker by the season

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