In a surprising move, the Dallas Cowboys released Jaylon Smith on Tuesday. On Wednesday, more chaos ensued when the New England Patriots were set to cut ties with Stephon Gilmore. The Green Bay Packers missed on Gilmore but got a deal done with Smith. While some are excited because it’s a known name, it’s not the consolation prize Green Bay needed.
Smith was a lock to go in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft before a gruesome knee injury he sustained in his final game at Notre Dame made many scouts and executives shy away. The Cowboys took him in the second round, and he was great in his first two years, but his play has severely dropped off in the last couple of seasons.
Signing him sounds glamorous because of his name, especially for Packers fans. There have long been dreams of finding a long-term solution at the inside linebacker spot, but Smith won’t be that.
Like every other team in the NFL, Green Bay has had weak points early in the year, and they have been exploited. However, that weak spot hasn’t been at inside linebacker. Free-agent pickup De’Vondre Campbell has been a hidden-gem acquisition for the Packers. He was picked up late in the offseason. Although he was almost an afterthought to many, he has turned in one consistent performance after another.
Campbell leads the team in tackles through four weeks and has an interception and a fumble recovery on his resumé. And he’s been durable, playing 100% of the defensive snaps in the last three weeks. Outside of Campbell, it’s been a bit thin at depth at the position with Krys Barnes out, but even Oren Burks has been suitable as his replacement.
Any ideas that Smith will step right in and take on a prominent role in this defense should be ignored. Smith hasn’t shown the capability to be that type of player anymore, even though he’s only 26 years old.
Smith’s story is an incredible one. Many thought his career was doomed after the leg injury at Notre Dame. He would rehab and become a significant contributor for the Cowboys in his first couple of seasons. But the last two years have been on the opposite side of the spectrum. He has been tardy in coverage, had noticeably slowed when pursuing a ball carrier, and the Cowboys had far better, younger, and cheaper options, making the decision to cut him easier for them.
Some point to Smith’s PFF grade (11th among all linebackers with at least 100 snaps). But he’s played super sparingly for Dallas and has done well with a heavily reduced role.
There’s a chance Smith could do well with that same light workload that he had in Dallas this year, but inside linebacker isn’t a problem right now. Green Bay should have been saving their ammunition for a move when they need it out of necessity, not because it’s a flashy name at a spot that they’ve historically had trouble with.
Jaire Alexander‘s long-term status is still uncertain. If he misses any significant time, Green Bay becomes super at cornerback with Kevin King also on the shelf. That’s why Gilmore made all the sense in the world. The interest appeared to be mutual before the Carolina Panthers decided they were contenders and swooped in with the trade to acquire the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
It would’ve made much more sense for the Packers to wait and then search for a cornerback who could become available than it would be to clog up a roster spot with Smith. That’s the larger picture that still needs to be the focus, especially if Alexander is out for the long run.
As the season continues and the injuries undoubtedly pile up for every team, the areas of need become much more apparent. Green Bay is already thin at cornerback, and it’s only Week 5. The offensive line has been phenomenal, with David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins missing time. How much longer it can hold up is anyone’s guess, but the Packers need to be prepared in case it were to get worse up front from an injury standpoint.
Teams don’t typically just cut ties with really good players in the middle of the season, especially players held in the highest regard when it comes to character and attitude like Smith. Dallas viewed Smith as expendable. And while they’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past, nobody was willing to give up draft capital or eat some of the salary when his name was reportedly brought up before the Cowboys released him. This isn’t the same Jaylon Smith from two years ago.
Signing Smith won’t be a disaster and won’t merit outrage. But the move doesn’t make any sense given where the weak spots are on this roster and what areas may need to be addressed with a trade down the road. He’s a well-known name, but if the optimists are suggesting Smith is a perfect consolation prize for missing out on Gilmore, they will be disappointed.