In a pretty stunning move the Cowboys will be releasing linebacker Jaylon Smith despite owing him the balance of his $7.2 million salary this year according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter
In-season surprise: Cowboys released LB Jaylon Smith, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 6, 2021
While there has been much offseason talk about when the Cowboys could get out of this contract I am not sure anyone saw this coming. Smith had started two of the Cowboys four games this season and had played in 56% of their defensive snaps. While he did not live up to the lofty $12.75 million a year contract extension that the Cowboys signed him to in 2019 it is rare to see a player cut in-season with such a large salary when the player also has a role of sorts on the team.
This will wind up as one of the worst contract decisions in Cowboys history. Smith was under contract to Dallas for $1.34 million in 2019 and would have been a restricted free agent in 2020. While negotiating an extension the Cowboys agreed to use a 1st round RFA value of $4.671 million as a placeholder for the purposes of calculating the contract value.
Rather than paying him the $6,006,678 for those two years the team wound up agreeing to an extension that paid him $19,006,678, a $13 million raise. He had a $7.2 million salary this year and that was fully guaranteed, bringing the total bill to $20.2 million in additional salary paid for Smith to appear in four games this season.
To put that number in perspective the Rams paid Todd Gurley $20 million to appear in 0 new games, which was probably the standard for bad contract decisions not involving a QB (Jared Goff was at $32.5 million while Carson Wentz was at $29.6 million), That is not good company to be in. If Smith signs elsewhere Dallas will earn an offset on the salary but most likely it will just be for the minimum, so in the ballpark of $770,000.
The bizarre thing is that Dallas could have avoided the guarantee by simply releasing Smith back in March as his salary was guaranteed only for injury until early March and I believe he was healthy at that time. It would have been expensive on the cap but they could have designated him a June 1 cut, carrying him on the cap at $9.8 million until June 2nd and then having the charge drop to $2.6 million. The Cowboys will be left with the full cap charge for Smith this year at $9.8 million and $6.8 million in 2022.
I was incorrect on the above information (Ill keep it as a strikethrough just to keep it) as Smith has been dealing with an injury which protected his contract back in March and forced it to vest. So Dallas was unable to release him even if they wanted to in March.
Unless something turns up regarding a non football issue there is little sense to be made of the cut. It is possible Dallas was worried that an injury guarantee of $9.2 million for next year could kick in if he got hurt, but they could have simply taken him off the field to avoid that. While his contract was bloated, the $7.2 million salary was not and they still had a few weeks to try to trade him even if it meant eating some of the cost since they are eating the cost anyway. At the very least they could have released him after the trade deadline which would have exposed him to waivers and maybe a desperate team would have picked up the contract.. That would be a low probability but at least you had a chance. Maybe they announced this in hopes a team will call them tomorrow as that is about the only logical thing I can see.
Unless there is more than meets the eye here everything about this process was terrible. It was a terrible extension decision. And it sure doesnt seem to make much sense to release him now.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.