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Cowboys 2021 free agency: Dallas must make a decision on re-signing Aldon Smith

Should the pass rusher be a part of the Cowboys’ long-term plans?

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Coming into the 2020 season, Aldon Smith was an enigma. The 31-year-old pass-rusher had been out of football since 2015, making it five years since he last took a snap in the NFL. When the Dallas Cowboys signed Smith, they believed he could replicate some of the production he had when he first entered the league, like recording 42.0 sacks in his first three seasons.

At the start of the 2020 campaign, Smith looked a whole lot like the All-Pro version of himself we saw in San Francisco. In the Cowboys’ first five games, Smith recorded 16 total tackles, 15 quarterback pressures, eight quarterback hits, and three sacks.

Smith graded out with a Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush grade above 65 in all but one of the first five games of the season. He also was sixth in the NFL in PFF’s pass rush productivity stat.

Smith was making a true impact rushing the passer, and on a defense that was having some serious struggles as a whole, he was one bright spot. However, after his red-hot start, Smith’s production started to taper off. After Week 5, Smith registered just six quarterback hits and one sack in the final 11 games of the season.

If you look at Smith’s 2020 season as a whole, PFF still had him rated out with a pass rush grade of 70 on the year, which isn’t a terrible mark. His 35 quarterback hurries and 11 quarterback hits had him tied for the eighth and seventh-most in the league respectively.

With year one in Dallas in the books and free agency on the way, Smith’s possible return will be one of the bigger questions of this offseason. The Cowboys showed a commitment to Smith at this past year’s trading deadline. According to reports a few teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, inquired about Smith, but Dallas was unwilling to move the pass-rusher.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones affirmed this in early November when he spoke with the media.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones confirmed that the club has no intention of trading Smith before Tuesday’s deadline despite interest from Seattle in recent days, according to an NFL Network report.

“That’s definitively correct. We’re not interested in doing anything in Aldon Smith,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday morning.

It seems pretty clear Dallas would like to keep Smith around. With DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory as the only real pass rush threats on the roster, Smith would really help solidify the group if he returned.

Gregory posted some outstanding production on the field in 2020, but he still has not played in back-to-back seasons without a suspension in his NFL career. If Smith was back in the fold, it would provide some much-needed insurance in case an issue does arise.

As is the case with most free agency deals, this decision likely will come down to money. Smith’s new deal will certainly eclipse the one-year, $2 million contract he signed to come to Dallas, but just how much and how long would a potential deal be? Ultimately that will decide if Aldon Smith is back wearing the star again next fall.