Dallas Cowboys not considering release of LB Jaylon Smith to create salary cap room

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Clarence E. Hill Jr.
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Whether the Dallas Cowboys sign quarterback Dak Prescott to a contract extension before March 9 franchise tag deadline or not, they will likely still need to make moves to clear room under the salary cap.

But the situation will be more acute if they have to place the franchise tag of Prescott at cost of $37.7 million for 2021 because they weren’t able get a long-term deal done before March 9.

According to NFL Player’s Association records, the team has roughly $17.5 million in cap room under the projected cap of $180 million.

The Cowboys are considering ways to clear cap room through contract restructures and releases.

But one option that is not on the table is the cutting of maligned linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to a source.

While Smith’s play has drawn increasing criticism from fans and media, the Cowboys don’t share same dour opinion, said the source.

Coach Mike McCarthy expressed a similar sentiment after the 2020 season ended with Smith leading the Cowboys with 154 tackles, a tally that placed him third in the NFL.

“The fact that he lines up every day, the fact that he practices hard every day, plays hard, I thought he gave us some big-time, productive games,” McCarthy said. “I think he’s probably one of the ones that was challenged the most as far as the scheme change. I just love his approach and the way he’s gone about it.”

From a housekeeping standpoint, the Cowboys will have the opportunity to put some substance behind their opinion over the next month by their continued inaction on Smith.

If they don’t make a move with him to create cap room for Prescott by March 9, then the next date of interest will be March 21, the fifth day of the league’s year and the day Smith’s 2021 base salary of $7.2 million becomes fully guaranteed.

The Cowboys can create $7.2 million in cap room by releasing Smith and designating him as a post-June 1 cut.

So instead of having a cap number of $9.8 million in 2021, it would be $2.6 million in dead cap money with another $7.2 million being charged in 2022.

Of course, some of that savings would be negated by the cost of finding another linebacker to replace him in the starting lineup, either in the draft or in free agency.

Most importantly, however, the Cowboys don’t seem to be interested in moving away from Smith, who remains confident in his abilities and told critics of his play to watch the film.

And there is a belief that Smith and the entire unit will be better under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who replaced the fired Mike Nolan after a historically-bad season in which the Cowboys gave up the most points and the second-most yards in franchise history.

Quinn will return the Cowboys to the 4-man front after they used a multiple scheme under Nolan — a shift that was compromised by the inability to implement changes in the offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith has already spoken to Quinn and he is excited to get to work with someone he called a proven winner.

Quinn coordinated a Seattle Seahawks defense that made back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl in 2013 and 2014 before serving as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons the past six years.

“He is going to get some guys that are locked in and ready to bounce back,” Smith said on the NFL Network during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. “There were so many things we endured. We didn’t do a good enough job executing and playing together. Not being on the same page and not understanding what we were supposed to do and how to do it the right way ... you lose your confidence.

“We are hungry and motivated.”