The Cowboys shocked the sports world Tuesday night with the unexpected release of linebacker Jaylon Smith. While the writing has been on the wall for a future release of Smith, not many expected that release to happen in season due to the inability to save any money. But the more digging that was done, the more it came out that the team was concerned with an injury guarantee put in Smith’s contract for the 2022 season. Rather than risk another in-season or offseason injury locking the team into the 2022 deal, they decided to cut their losses and get out of a poor deal, before it got even worse.
With this move, you can look at it as an addition by subtraction. While Smith was overly criticized at times, sometimes a bit too harshly, he was no longer a quality player in the NFL. His inability to change directions, to move with any sort of burst, and his continued struggles to get off blocks often left him as a liability on defense, even in his limited role. Due to all of those things, Smith was pushed way down the depth chart with the emergence of Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, and the talent of Leighton Vander Esch. Smith’s inability to play special teams also contributed to the Cowboys releasing the sixth-year linebacker.
In Smith’s place, you’ll likely see rookie Jabril Cox get a bit more run in the Cowboys defense moving forward. Cox is coming off a very impressive preseason in which he graded out as one of the best rookie linebackers in the 2021 preseason. Cox is known more for his coverage skills than his run defense, but showed up nicely in both areas in the preseason. Cox has all the tools to be a really good linebacker in today’s modern NFL, thanks to his size, length, athleticism, and coverage skills on running backs and tight ends. With Keanu Neal looking to make his return from the COVID list, and Micah Parsons getting more playing time again at linebacker instead of defensive end, Cox will not be asked to start, but could see time in the nickel and packages when Parsons is being used as a pass rusher, with Neal and Cox as the linebackers on obvious passing downs.
Unlike last year where the team elected to play veterans over players like Bradlee Anae, Francis Bernard, and Reggie Robinson, the Cowboys seem to want to give some of their younger players a chance to compete early in the season.
Let’s see if they do that with Jabril Cox, and if he is up to the challenge.