FRISCO - The Dallas Cowboys are releasing former Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith even though he is only halfway through the second year of his monster deal.
And one of the reasons? The Cowboys' recent monster NFL Draft, bubbling over with linebacker talent.
The first-round selection of Micah Parsons in April was the first sign of an eventual change - albeit a chance most thought would come after the 2021 season, when former starter Smith could more affordably be phased off the roster, But additionally, the selection of Jabril Cox in the fourth round was another signal ... as, of course, was the pre-Draft signing of Keanu Neal, who'd played safety for new Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in Atlanta and was converted to linebacker here.
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And suddenly, this week, the fact that Smith is still owed about $7.2 million in 2021 salary is relatively immaterial (though the 2022 injury guarantee of $9.2 million, is now avoided, a key point that was raised by Dallas when, sources tell us, the club tried to trade Smith to Miami in the Draft as part of a pursuit of a cornerback with the Dolphins' sixth-overall pick).
What is material, as Jaylon exits The Star with his arms full of credit (for his incredible comeback from injury) and criticism (his entrepreneurship-driven tone-deafness became a problem for Cowboys watcher):
*Parsons has taken over the linebackers room, earning the highest possible praise, all the way up to owner Jerry Jones.
*Neal, a starter in Dallas' 4-2 base defense when healthy, is coming off the COVID list this week.
*In terms of organizational threshold tolerance, Leighton Vander Esch might just be injury-risk enough for one position group. (And indeed, Dallas this offseason passed on picking up his fifth-year option for 2022 at $9 million.)
*And, in short order, people inside The Star suggest that Cox, the former LSU star who some Cowboys staffers think is a "steal-of-the-draft''-type talent, is ready.
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Cox is ascending.
"Depending on if I'm getting one snap or 10 snaps, I'm trying to make the most of those opportunities," said Cox during preseason ... and now the "one'' is about to inch nearer the "10.''
Smith has been a factor in eating up snaps; he played more than 90 percent of the time a year ago, and in two games this season for 3-1 Dallas, he played 50-plus snaps. But he has nevertheless spent the first month of the season as, essentially, Dallas fourth linebacker.
And with Cox' projected ability to play special teams? Jaylon was all along in danger of slipping to fifth on the totem pole.
For the Cowboys, this was never about Jaylon insisting his critics "watch the film,'' never about the switching his jersey from No. 54 to No. 9, never about "The Swipe,'' the showy in-game hand gesture that sometimes came at odd times.
This is in part about money, about salary-cap ramifications. (There is also $6.8 million more to be accounted for by Dallas' 2022 cap, by the way, though Smith signing elsewhere can offset some of this debt.)
This is even more about the 2021 NFL Draft. About Micah Parsons, obviously.
But just a little way down the Dallas depth chart, this is also - less obviously for the moment - about Jabril Cox.