With all the talks of contract extensions around the Dallas Cowboys, many thought the first to be signed would be either bell cow running back Ezekiel Elliott or darling quarterback Dak Prescott. Next in line may have been newcomer wide receiver Amari Cooper, or lockdown cornerback Byron Jones. However, Jerry Jones had different plans when he made the big-hitting inside linebacker Jaylon Smith an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Before we breakdown the contract, let’s look back at Jaylon’s interesting story as an NFL player. He finished junior season at Notre Dame by winning the Butkus Award (college football’s top linebacker) just before tearing his ACL & MCL with significant nerve damage in the Fiesta Bowl. A probable overall top 5 NFL draft choice, turned into a question mark of if he will ever be able to play the sport he grew up loving, ever again. Smith declared for the 2016 NFL Draft with scouts projecting him to go anywhere from the 2nd round to the 6th round with teams unsure how quick he could recover, if at all. The Dallas Cowboys selected him 34th overall. It was a gamble, but one that Jerry did not want to miss out on like he did with Randy Moss 18 years prior.
Once Jaylon became a Cowboy, he did everything he could to make it back on the football field. When he did, in 2017, he did not disappoint, recording 81 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and a sack. He only started 6 games, but played in all 16, a milestone in and of itself. The next season was a breakout year for both him and the Cowboys 1st round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch. They finished the season as one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL, all the while working as if they were given nothing and had to earn everything.
The overall numbers: $5 million signing bonus, $35.5 million guaranteed, for a total of $64 million over 6 years.
This seems to be a cap-friendly deal, Every. Single. Year. With the NFL salary cap steadily increasing $10 million a year since 2013, the $12-13 million cap hits from 2022-2025 will be a bargain for a quality starting linebacker and team leader, that wants to be a Dallas Cowboy for life.
Jaylon Smith’s goal was to allow his mom to retire, and he has definitely accomplished that. All the while, still giving the owner and team that took a chance on him 3 years ago, the ability to build a Super Bowl contending team around him.
Zeke and Dak did Jaylon a huge favor this preseason, by holding out and asking for a ridiculous $40 million/year deal, respectively. Zeke angered one of, if not the only person, that had his back through every personal issue on and off the field. Jerry Jones will treat a player he loves like family; but, turn on him, and he will do the same in return. It looks as if both agents will have to go back to the drawing board with the Cowboy’s front office, while Jaylon Smith slowly inches his way up the fan-favorite list in Cowboy Nation. Look to see a lot more #54 jerseys in the stands this year as Jaylon Smith just signed a contract to be in the Silver & Blue for at least 10 years.
The Cowboys’ offensive line has been considered one of the best in the NFL for the past few years. Most of this is due to the outstanding play of Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. The problem is not that their play is declining or their talent is diminishing, but that their health may not be able to keep up.
Zack Martin left the second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a knee injury. The good news is that there is no ligament damage; he was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee and bone. However, knee problems and offensive lineman have never been a good mix. Martin will not play in the last two preseason games, and aims to be back for week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
Travis Frederick had been dealing with a ‘stinger’ since August 15th. He missed the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals and has had several doctor’s appointments since then. A week later, on August 22nd he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves. The Mayo Clinic says that for most people with GBS, the condition worsens for 2 weeks after the first signs and symptoms and plateaus within a month. Recovery usually lasts 6-12 months, but could take as long as three years. Jerry Jones was optimistic that Frederick would play week 1 before the diagnosis, but now Frederick says there is no timetable for his return.
The third and best of this trio, is Tyron Smith. He has looked like his future gold jacket wearing self in the first two preseason games, and says that he is “feeling great now” and is “in the best shape I’ve been in a while”. Unfortunately, that is coming from a 6’5″ 320 pound man who had bulging disk problems in 2016, and missed several games due to back, hip, groin and knee problems in 2017. If you had to think of injuries not to have as an NFL left tackle, at least 3 of those would be in the top 5. Dak Prescott would be the first to tell you Smith’s importance to the Dallas offense, considering Dak was sacked 8 times in the first game Tyron missed due to injury last year. It should be noted that 6 of those sacks were by Adrian Clayborn, the defensive end that Smith would have been responsible for blocking.
With Cameron Fleming added through free agency there is seemingly better depth at tackle than last year. He is a swing tackle that can fill in better than Chaz Green did in 2017. Second round draft pick Connor Williams will most likely be starting at left guard opposite Zack Martin (if healthy). Joe Looney started at center in the absence of Frederick against the Bengals, and looked as if he could benefit from a few more reps in the final two preseason games. La’el Collins is holding his own at the right tackle position, and seems to be feeling more comfortable with each snap.
All in all, the Cowboys offensive line is a force to be reckoned with…if healthy. But if injuries become an issue, especially with the three All-Pro lineman, Zeke will not be saying “feed me” as much and Dak will be running for his life. Jason Garrett better be praying for a healthy offensive line in 2018, or he may be finding himself getting his resume together in January.
UPDATE: La’el Collins limping with heavily taped ankle on 8/23/18. Yup, the only healthy Cowboys offensive lineman in rookie, Connor Williams.
It seems this saga has finally come to an end as Ezekiel Elliott’s brief 1 game injunction of his suspension is now over, and Zeke will begin his 6 game suspension this week. The Cowboys go to Atlanta to play the 4-4 Falcons. If all goes as planned, Zeke should be ready to join his teammates at AT&T Stadium for the game against the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve.
The Dallas Cowboys will have to play without Zeke for 3 away games against the Falcons, Giants, and Raiders. They will miss him at home against the Eagles, Chargers, and Redskins.
The first quarter of the 2017 NFL season is over; and while it’s still a very young season, there is much to be learned. These are my three largest concerns heading into week 5 of the season.
These are the 53 players to make the cut for Dallas Cowboys for the 2017 NFL Season
QB: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Kellen Moore
RB/FB: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Keith Smith
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown
TE: Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
OL: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, Joe Looney, Byron Bell
DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford Benson Mayowa, Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper
DT: Stephen Paea, Maliek Collins, Brian Price
LB: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Jayrone Elliott, Justin Durant
CB: Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Bene Benwikere
S: Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
K: Dan Bailey
P: Chris Jones
LS: LP LaDouceur
Suspended: David Irving (DE), Damontre Moore (DE), Randy Gregory (DE)
IR: Thomas Duke (CB), Rico Gathers
Practice Squad: Lance Lenoir (WR), Brian Brown (WR), Blake Jarwin (TE), Dan Skipper (OL), Nate Theaker (OL), Kadeem Edwards (OL), Richard Ash (DT), Lewis Neal (DT), Marquez White (CB), Jameill Showers (S)
Notable Players to Miss the Cut: Cedric Thorton (DT), Joey Ivie (DT), Marquez White (CB), Robert Blanton (S), Mark Nzeocha (LB)