Aldon Smith made a successful return to the NFL in 2020 as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. While his sack production dried up after an early flash, the 31-year-old proved he could still contribute despite age and a five-year absence from football. Now a free agent again, Smith is reportedly still on the Cowboys' radar for a return in 2021.
Back in January, Jerry Jones said he wanted Aldon Smith's journey to continue in Dallas. But since then the Cowboys have added pass rusher Tarell Basham in free agency and re-signed Ron'Dell Carter. They still have DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, and Bradlee Anae under contract as well.
One could have assumed, especially after the Basham signing, that Dallas no longer had Aldon Smith in their plans.
Multiple sources say Cowboys believe DE Aldon Smith fits their defensive scheme but still trying to figure out if they want him to return.
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 22, 2021
It isn't hard to fit a player like Smith into any defense. While he played outside linebacker in his early years with the 49ers, he is a natural fit as a pass-rushing defensive end with the Cowboys expected to go back to the 4-3 scheme under Dan Quinn.
A trio of Lawrence, Gregory, and Smith gives the Cowboys flexibility. It allows you to take DeMarcus off the field and still deploy two effective pass rushers at the same time, which could be especially critical in 3rd-down pass defense.
Finding a use for Aldon Smith isn't really the issue. And with the first wave of free agency over, Dallas should be able to sign him to a reasonable contract that fits their fiscal needs.
The sticking point here is probably if they want to bring in an older veteran who would limit opportunities for young, developing talent. Smith would be the classic “progress stopper” in this case; perhaps stunting growth for prospects like Anae and Carter.
In the end, though, you don't worry about the future if you think someone can really help you in the upcoming season. If Aldon is a clear upgrade over other options then you sign him up, focus on 2021, and cross other bridges when you come to them.
That's why the Cowboys are still pondering a future with or without Aldon Smith; what's his immediate value compared to their younger, and probably less expensive, prospects? If they think about it too long, another team may swoop in and end the conversation.