This one is bound to split opinions, so let’s jump right in.
While most of the country was watching the Boston Red Sox beat up on the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, the Dallas Cowboys swooped in and sent shockwaves around the NFL by confirming the release of Jaylon Smith.
Fittingly enough, fans in Landover swiftly got on a soapbox and proclaimed that Washington shouldn’t even think twice about signing Smith, and understandably so. Jon Bostic is likely done for the season with a pec injury and wasn’t offering much in the middle of the defense to begin with.
At the same time, however, the move could easily blow up in Washington’s face, so let’s try to figure out if it’d actually be worth it.
Should Washington sign the recently-released Jaylon Smith?
In a vacuum, the move wasn’t surprising. Smith’s effectiveness has fallen off a cliff ever since he inked a six-year, $68 million contract extension with the franchise in 2019. The deal was fully deserved, as Smith was genuinely one of the best linebackers in the NFL from 2018 to 2019, when he logged 263 tackles (12 for loss), 13 pass breakups, 6.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and nine QB hits.
Those numbers are nothing to stiff at. Unfortunately for Smith, he never quite lived up to his contract, which included $35.5 million in guaranteed money.
After a mistake-littered 2020 campaign, Smith fell out of favor in Dan Quinn’s new scheme, falling as deep as fourth in the LB pecking order, behind Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander-Esch and Keanu Neal. He even lost reps to safeties Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse, who’ve lined up at LB on occasion this year.
Through four games, Smith has played just 56% of the defensive snaps, a tick higher than the 55% share he logged as a rookie in 2017. In terms of reading schemes and filling gaps against the run, Smith and Bostic are equally unreliable.
Take this particular play against the Eagles for example. Smith (No. 9) was responsible for filling the gap on a Miles Sanders handoff. Smith followed the tight end, which opened a gaping hole for the Eagles running back and he wasted no time. The end result was a 25-yard run, all because of Smith’s poor judgment.
Washington fans should know that, if the team signs Smith, he will induce just about as many headaches as Bostic defending the run. Having said that, there are some pros that would come with signing the former Cowboy.
At just 26 years old, there’s a lot of untapped potential. In the right scheme, he could be an effective linebacker. He’s far better in coverage than Bostic, and his 72 career coverage grade from Pro Football Focus proves that. He’s a freak physically and can hold is own against most tight ends.
As evidenced by his nine career sacks, 15 QB hits and 20 tackles for loss, Smith can also be a serviceable pass rusher, The former Pro Bowler wears his emotion on his sleeve — albeit, at the wrong times on occasion — and he’d likely walk right into Washington’s locker room and embrace a leadership role.
That’s just the kind of character he is.
The final verdict? At the right price, we wouldn’t be opposed to Washington signing Smith. He’s better than what they currently have on the roster (Khaleke Hudson, David Mayo, and Jordan Kunaszyk) in terms of replacing Bostic and the free agent market is slim pickings right now.
Just be careful what you wish for. Smith is maddening to watch defend at times. There’s a reason Dallas took on $16.6 million in dead cap to cut bait with him. Based on performance, this move would’ve happened ages ago. His contract was the only thing keeping him on the roster up until Tuesday night.