Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy explains ‘big-picture’ decision to release LB Jaylon Smith

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FRISCO, Texas – Cowboys management met Tuesday for a regularly scheduled personnel meeting.

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He reviewed every player on the team’s roster and decided: it was time.

“It was a big-picture roster move,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday morning.


Former Pro Bowl linebacker Jaylon Smith, who has started 56 games for the Cowboys since 2017, was released.

The decision was multifaceted. Smith’s contract, his game and the Cowboys’ youthful debut were developing faster than expected. The advantage given to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in his first season was also a component in pulling the trigger. In 2019, Smith signs five-year extension until 2025 worth $64 million With $35.5 million guaranteed, which includes his 2021 salary of $7.2 million. Smith still owes that salary this year. But the Cowboys wanted to avoid another contract implication: a $9.2 million injury guarantee for 2022 that would have been triggered if Smith had suffered an injury this year.

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Smith had not missed a game since the start of the 2017 season after resuming the 2016 rookie year, while rehabilitating a gruesome knee injury in which he sustained nerve damage. was kept. But as Smith’s production plummeted in recent seasons, criticism was mounting. in many plays 36-28 win over Panthers on Sunday, Smith stood near a chase or was easily blocked with a tackle.

The Cowboys, who have made a comeback to sixth place from 31st-ranked run defense so far this year, believed they had better options.

“It’s about progress and a little bit more clarity with the defensive package and personnel groups and how we want to play,” McCarthy said. “The direction we are approaching the season is the ability to develop the roster from top to bottom, especially with younger players.”

Cowboys drafted Micah Parsons With the 12th overall selection this spring. Parsons has ruined the game plan as both a linebacker and a hybrid edge rusher, making moves to fill holes due to injury and a COVID-19 absence. Against the Panthers on Sunday, Parsons started his 2018 first-round pick with linebacker Leighton Vander Ish. The Cowboys are also pleased with the production from the off-season signing Keanu Neal and rookie fourth-round pick Jabreel Cox. Neil, who was not fully vaccinated, missed two matches due to COVID-19 but returned to practice on Wednesday. The Cowboys also have linebacker Luke Gifford on their roster.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones first met with Smith to discuss the release. McCarthy later met with the veteran. Jones took a chance on Smith’s rehabilitation when selecting a linebacker in the second round of the 2016 draft. Smith’s return to high levels, a force in 2019 and team tackle leader in 2019 and 2020, was one of Jones’ favorite redemption stories over the past five years.

McCarthy insisted Wednesday morning that in releasing Smith, he is “not trying to send a message to the locker room” about the sixth-year supporter. Instead, linebackers on active- and practice-squad rosters will have the opportunity to compete for snaps on a 3-1 Cowboys defense. McCarthy said he appreciated the time he spent with Smith.

“Jaylon is an excellent football player,” McCarthy said. “He played good football for us. In my time, he bought into the program’s new direction entirely, all we’ve done is play his ass up to a guy who practices every day.

“I have nothing but respect for him.”

Follow USA Today Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @Jori Epstein.

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