The Dallas Cowboys broke the bank for a starter not named Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott or Amari Cooper.
On Tuesday, the team reached an agreement with linebacker Jaylon Smith on a “lucrative,” long-term extension, as first reported by ESPN’s Todd Archer and Adam Schefter. Dallas has scheduled an afternoon press conference at The Star to announce the deal.
As NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported, the terms of the deal include $64 million over five years and $35 million in guarantees.
The Cowboys selected Smith in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft, his stock plummeting due to red flags surrounding his balky knee and the two major ligaments (ACL, LCL) he tore while in college. The Notre Dame product finally became a full-time starter at middle linebacker last season, collecting 121 tackles (82 solo), four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown. Pro Football Focus named him its breakout player of the year.
“This is just the beginning,” Smith recently said, per Inside The Star. “I’m never satisfied. Everyone is dealt their own hand, it’s about how you respond. For me, the knee is great.”
Smith was set to hit restricted free agency in 2020. The sides began negotiating an extension this spring, per Archer, and increased communication within the last few weeks, showing how highly he’s valued by the Cowboys — more so, at this very moment, than their franchise quarterback, rushing champion, and star pass-catcher.
“Would it be better if we can get one of the players done (before the season) than to not have any done of the ones you’re talking about? The answer is yes” owner Jerry Jones said last week, via NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. “What may surprise you is we may come up with one that you haven’t been asking about.”
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Smith’s Lofty Goal
Before he was signed, sealed, and delivered, the 24-year-old revealed his defensive expectations for the upcoming campaign, a barometer that far exceeds Dallas’ 2018 statistical rankings. He isn’t settling for average — or anywhere near it.
“Dominant. Elite. That’s our desires, but it starts on the practice field today,” Smith said last week, via Jon Machota of The Athletic.
Despite boasting talent at all three levels, the Cowboys’ defense finished no higher than 12th (against the run) in any of the major categories. They were 13th in points allowed (17.0), 20th in total yards (339.0 yards per game) and 23rd against the pass (251.0).
Money aside, Smith is one step closer toward meeting his non-financial goal of retiring with Big D. He may be approaching 30 by the time he next sniffs the open market.
“I want to be a Cowboy. I want to be a Cowboy for the rest of my life,” Smith said, via Machota. “Understanding what they’ve done for me, taking a chance, taking a risk. Now they’re getting the return on their investment. It’s a beautiful thing to be a Dallas Cowboy.”
Salary Cap Update
The Cowboys had roughly $23.5 million in available cap space prior to Smith’s extension. Depending on the numbers, they likely took a big chunk out of that to assauge the blossoming defender. If the Joneses hope to lock down the Big Three, they’ll need to get creative.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter @KelbermanNFL