According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the cap-strapped club is not mulling releasing the highly-paid and underperforming linebacker this offseason.
“The Cowboys are considering ways to clear cap room through contract restructures and releases. But one option that is not on the table is the cutting of maligned linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to a source,” Hill reported Thursday.
Pressed for comment, Smith told Mike Fisher of CowboysSI.com that Dallas has yet to reach out regarding a contract restructure or his potential departure.
“No sir, they have not,” he responded Thursday.
A key culprit on a historically bad Cowboys defense that surrendered the most points in franchise history, Smith recorded a team-leading 154 tackles in 2020 — year two of his five-year, $63.75 million extension. The NFL’s third-highest-paid LB added 1.5 sacks, one interception, and zero forced fumbles as impact plays were few and far in-between.
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Designating Smith a post-June 1 cut would create $7.2 million in cap room for a Cowboys organization that currently has $19.356 million in available wiggle room and a massive decision to make at quarterback with Dak Prescott, an unrestricted free agent, destinated for a multi-year deal worth $40 million annually or a fully-guaranteed $37.7 million franchise tag.
But the Cowboys always appeared likely to run it back with Smith, who they hope will benefit from Nolan’s firing and the hiring of former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator.
“The fact that he lines up every day, the fact that he practices hard every day, plays hard, I thought he gave us some big-time, productive games,” McCarthy said of Smith after the season, per the Star-Telegram. “I think he’s probably one of the ones that was challenged the most as far as the scheme change. I just love his approach and the way he’s gone about it.”
Under contract through 2024, Smith is due to count $9.8 million against the cap next season, his age-26 campaign. The former Pro Bowler’s $7.2 million base salary for 2021 will become guaranteed on March 21, the fifth day of the new league year.
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Cowboys Predicted to Re-Sign Woods
Elsewhere on defense, flying in the face of conventional wisdom, Pro Football Focus has projected the Cowboys will retain embattled starting safety Xavier Woods with a four-year free-agent contract.
Ranked No. 50 on PFF’s list of the top 100 unsigned NFL players, Woods is forecast to net a $25 million extension — averaging $6.25 million annually — when the market opens next month.
Woods entered the league as a versatile safety with slot coverage skills and a sixth-round draft steal as he’s developed into a solid free safety. He ranks in the middle of the pack from a coverage standpoint when lined up deep, but he’s been excellent when lined up closer to the line of scrimmage, making him a good fit for teams that play with interchangeable safeties. He can still dabble in the slot at times, and the Cowboys are doing more of that in 2020, but it hasn’t been Woods’ strong suit to this point in his NFL career. His four season grades have ranged from 65.0 to 73.0.
Contract Analysis: This much talent at one position could have the effect of suppressing contracts for everyone. Or, particularly because of the salary cap situation in 2021, it could have the effect of eroding the middle-tier market. Teams may decide that unless they can land a premier free safety who is an impact player, they might as well just go to the bargain bin and sign a cheap veteran. For this reason, Woods’ next contract could truly fall within a very wide range.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL