Buddy Ryan once famously quipped: “If you listen to the fans, you’ll be sitting up there with them.” The former Philadelphia Eagles head coach wasn’t keen on listening to outside opinions. Ryan was tough as nails, his way or the highway.
But Ryan knew how to build NFL defenses better than anyone. And he always valued the linebacker position, from Mike Singletary and Wilber Marshall in Chicago to Byron Evans and Seth Joyner in Philly. So the snarly old curmudgeon would have probably been interested in Jaylon Smith.
The Dallas Cowboys cut the one-time Pro Bowler on Tuesday (Oct. 5) and Twitter immediately put him in midnight green. Hundreds of Eagles fans were flickering their fingers and sharing highlight-reel videos of Smith making a sack or breaking up a pass. He has 516 career tackles, with nine sacks and two interceptions – although his flaws are out there for everyone to see.
There’s no need to revisit the glaring need for an impact linebacker on Jonathan Gannon’s defense. The starters – Alex Singleton, Genard Avery, Eric Wilson – are adequate placeholders. Avery has posted the best overall grade (via Pro Football Focus) this season at 57.3. He splits time at the SAM spot with T.J. Edwards who owns the next-best grade at 46.7. Singleton has graded out at 39.0 through four weeks. Wilson has been the worst of the group at 30.1.
“I think they’re playing good right now as a collective whole,” Gannon told reporters on Sept. 29. “They’re doing extremely well in the passing game. You’d like to not miss a bunch of tackles, but missed tackles happen in the NFL. I think that, like as a collective whole, they’re doing what we ask them to do.”
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Taking Jerry Jones’ Favorite Out of Spite
Smith has definitely regressed since his lone Pro Bowl year in 2019. The 26-year-old has really struggled in stopping the run, a point of emphasis noted by legions of Cowboys fans following his release. But the decision to part ways with their second-round pick from 2016 had more to do with money than production.
Dallas was on the books for $9.2 million in guaranteed salary for Smith in 2022. That would have been wasted money considering they used a fourth-rounder on Jabril Cox in April, plus the Cowboys have transitioned Keanu Neal from safety to linebacker. They also drafted Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick. He’s been utilized as a pass rusher with DeMarcus Lawrence out, but his natural position is linebacker.
It must have been a hard pill for Jerry Jones to swallow, too. The hands-on owner has crowed about how much he loves Smith in previous years. The Cowboys handed him a $68 million extension and Jones called him “one of our cornerstones” in 2020. Not anymore. Jones saw the light, especially in terms of Smith’s production.
Eagles Eyed Up Smith in 2016 Draft
The Eagles traded up to select Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in 2016 in a move that rocked their draft board. They sent the No. 8, No. 77 and No. 100 picks in the 2016 draft, along with the No. 12 pick in the 2017 draft and a second-round pick in 2018, to the Cleveland Browns for the rights to Wentz.
According to The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane, the Eagles had interest in Smith before that blockbuster trade. They were probably looking at taking him at No. 77 but he went a lot earlier than that at No. 34. Maybe it’s time to finally bring Smith to Philly.