The Dallas Cowboys made a surprising cut on Tuesday night, as the team released former Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith (causing a $16.6M dead cap hit in the process)—which raises the question of whether the Indianapolis Colts should be interested:
In-season surprise: Cowboys released LB Jaylon Smith, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 6, 2021
Now, Smith came off of a somewhat underwhelming 2020 campaign, but he actually graded out very well so far this season for the Cowboys.
Specifically, per PFF (subscription), the 6’2”, 245 pound linebacker is ranked as their 13th best linebacker so far this season with a +69.5 overall grade—including an impressive +82.2 coverage grade during 4 games (2 starts).
To go along with that grade, Smith also has 18 tackles (13 solo).
The Cowboys moving on has less to do about Smith’s current play and production, and more about the fact that he’s no longer a natural fit in their defensive scheme compared to other in-house options at linebacker:
Can confirm. My sources tell me the #Cowboys tried unsuccessfully to trade Jaylon Smith. “He did everything we asked him to” but ultimately the play of guys like Keanu Neal, Leighton Vander Esch and I’m told perhaps increased use now of Jabril Cox led to the move bc of ⬇️ https://t.co/2YkPjxS6Ij— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) October 6, 2021
However, he was a scheme fit for longtime former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for three seasons (2017-19), where he was also previously coached (as then linebackers coach) by now Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus for two seasons (2016-17)—who has since brought a similar defensive identity to Indy.
There’s obviously great familiarity between Eberflus and Smith already.
Not to mention, Smith played his collegiate football at Notre Dame, where he was a standout as a 2x First-Team All-Independent and Dick Butkus Award recipient, and is a homegrown native from Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Lastly, the Colts could use an upgrade at the ‘Sam’, where Smith would be a clear upgrade to starter Zaire Franklin (and bring in extra bulk)—even with a potential position shift.
The Colts have felt the loss of departed ex-starter Anthony Walker’s leadership, sure tackling, and run defense out on the field in 2021 at times, and Smith’s arrival in Indy could go a long way towards filling some of that void.
He’s a leader—having persevered from a potentially devastating knee injury to end his collegiate career, to becoming one of the league’s top young linebackers in 2019:
Jerry Jones praising Jaylon Smith, compares his leadership to Dak Prescott: pic.twitter.com/jKdcggFeQm— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 6, 2017
Still only 26 years old, the former 2016 2nd round pick (who only slipped because of his uncertain knee injury) is worth rolling the dice on, as he would be a clear upgrade to the Colts’ current starting linebacking corps—while bringing in personality and leadership.