Cowboys Projected to Trade Jaylon Smith in Head-Scratching Deal

Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

Getty Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

Hypothetically, Pro Football Focus posits, the Dallas Cowboys should look to the AFC West for a Jaylon Smith suitor.

Hypothetically, the sports analytics giant explains, the Cowboys should trade the highly-paid linebacker to the Los Angeles Chargers for a 2022 fifth-round draft pick, clearing precious salary-cap space and pivotal playing time for prized rookie Micah Parsons.

Via PFF’s Brad Spielberger:

Pre-June 1 dead money: $9,400,000
Pre-June 1 cap savings: $400,000

Post-June 1 dead money: $2,600,000
Post-June 1 cap savings: $7,200,000

Difference in 2021 cap savings: $6,800,000

During draft season, the Dallas Cowboys made one move that likely works against this trade possibility and one that made it perhaps more likely. Dallas elected to decline the fifth-year option for 2018 first-round LB Leighton Vander Esch, making him a free agent after the 2021 season. With less certainty at the off-ball linebacker spot going forward, Dallas may be less inclined to move on from Jaylon Smith in a pivotal year. On the other hand, they drafted LB Micah Parsons at No. 12 overall after a great trade-down with the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles.

Realistically, despite the tempting cap relief, Dallas would lose face — as well as some fizz in the proverbial drink — by parting ways with Smith, a former second-round selection who led the team in tackles last season.

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Further Rationale

The impetus for this would-be deal, for the Cowboys, sits on the far end of the financial spectrum. Smith is the league’s second-highest-paid linebacker, taking home $12.750 million per year, and his inconsistent production often does not match his price tag.

Hence, the arrival of Parsons. And LB Jabril Cox, whom Dallas drafted in the fourth round. And Keanu Neal, the ex-Falcons safety whom the team is converting to weakside LB.

“Parsons figures to play more near the line of scrimmage and is not really a Jaylon Smith/Leighton Vander Esch replacement. But in a general sense, teams still aim to allocate resources economically across position groups. Dallas also added LSU linebacker Jabril Cox in the fourth round, further bolstering the position group with a player who is more of a prototypical off-ball linebacker with plus coverage skills,” Spielberger wrote.

“In addition, new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has already made it clear that he plans to use his former Falcons S Keanu Neal in a Will linebacker role. Smith was reportedly transitioning into more of a WLB role ahead of the 2020 season with Vander Esch taking over more responsibility at MLB, but then he got hurt. So, in summation, Parsons is an even better blitzer than Smith, and now there are possibly two better coverage options for nickel packages in Neal and Cox. All of this begs the question of whether Jaylon Smith may be available, even after he dropped the dough to switch his jersey to No. 9.”

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Cost of Dealing Smith

Under contract through 2025, Smith is due to count $9.8 million against the cap in 2021, his age-26 campaign. The former Pro Bowler backer’s $7.2 million base salary for the upcoming season became fully guaranteed on March 21.

Trading Smith after June 1 would create $7.2 million in cap savings, leaving behind $2.6 million in dead money. This is the only realistic way of moving Smith, as Dallas would incur a $9.8 million dead-money charge — with $0 in cap relief — by designating him a post-June 1 cut.

READ NEXT: Leighton Vander Esch Named in New Cowboys Trade Rumor

Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL

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