‘Zeke who?’ Smith beats Elliott, Prescott, and Cooper to new deal
Written by: Greg Lehr
Amid a very public, ongoing holdout with star running back Ezekiel Elliott, not to mention other active contract talks with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, the Cowboys have instead reached an agreement with breakout linebacker Jaylon Smith. The 5-year, $64 million extension includes $35.5 million in total guarantees, coming in right behind C.J. Mosley ($51M) and Bobby Wagner ($43M). His $12.8 million annual figure ranks 5th-highest in the NFL among inside linebackers, led by the two aforementioned names in the range of $17-18 million per year.
Assuming Smith puts together five more years similar to his 2018 performance, this appears to be a great deal for both sides. Despite starting just 22 games, Dallas has never wavered in their confidence in who Smith could become as a player after his recovery. Due to the other contracts looming, they realize Smith should certainly be considered a bargain within a year or two after the way that the linebacker market has been reset this offseason. So why would Smith sign an extension now when he could aim for top-market money one or two years from now? Maybe because Jaylon Smith and the Dallas Cowboys are a perfect fit, and Smith himself knows that better than anyone.
Just three years removed from his brutal knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, which wound up costing him his entire rookie season, Jaylon Smith has fought his way back tirelessly to come back better than almost anyone could have imagined. Even when he first returned to the field in 2017, collecting 81 tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles while starting six games, there were still moments that caused many to temper their expectations for his overall career comeback. There were flashes of the old (Notre Dame) version of Smith, but enough limitations were still visible, making many wonder if he could take that next step and truly return to form.
Last season answered all those questions, and then some. Smith went from occasional flashes to a consistent, every-down defensive force, turning into the playmaker everyone had been itching to see once again. PFF’s 2018 Breakout Player of the Year accounted for 121 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles (1 recovered for his first career TD), and he has undoubtedly taken over for Sean Lee in the middle of Dallas’ soaring defense. His leadership, attitude, and dedication have helped transform him into the linebacker that the Cowboys envisioned when they selected him early in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. At the time, this was widely viewed as the biggest risk of the entire draft. Fast forward to today, and he has proven to be an excellent return on their investment, just as he had hoped to be. Add in last year’s first-round stud Leighton Vander Esch and the Cowboys have quickly formed one of the best linebacker duos in the league for years to come.
While the new ‘triplets’ of the Dallas Cowboys (Dak, Zeke, Amari) are left waiting for extensions of their own, today is Jaylon Smith’s day, and he deserves every bit of it.