The Dallas Cowboys released veteran linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News cited a source who said members of the Cowboys roster are "all shocked" by the move.
Schefter noted Dallas is still on the hook for Smith's $7.2 million guaranteed salary this season, and the financial ramifications will linger into 2022.
Wow. Jaylon Smith had 5 years, $50.75M left on his contract.<br><br>His release leaves behind $16.6M of dead cap to the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Cowboys?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Cowboys</a><br><br>2021: $9.8M ($7.2M cash)<br>2022: $6.8M <a href="https://t.co/rWEOHdkOS4">https://t.co/rWEOHdkOS4</a>
The 26-year-old had 17 tackles through the team's first four games.
According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, the team has unsuccessfully attempted to find a trade, so an outright release was the only option on the table if the front office was committed to a separation.
The Cowboys signed Smith to a five-year, $64 million extension in August 2019. Though he made his first Pro Bowl the following season, his departure is a sign of how quickly his deal became a millstone for Dallas.
In June, Pro Football Focus' Brad Spielberger argued it was the worst contract on the team's payroll, in part because of how many other options head coach Mike McCarthy had at linebacker. The team selected Micah Parsons 12th overall in the 2021 NFL draft and added Jabril Cox in the fourth round after having already signed Keanu Neal.
Parsons has 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks already, while Cox and Neal have fit nicely into the defense.
Jane Slater @SlaterNFL
Can confirm. My sources tell me the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Cowboys?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Cowboys</a> tried unsuccessfully to trade Jaylon Smith. “He did everything we asked him to” but ultimately the play of guys like Keanu Neal, Leighton Vander Esch and I’m told perhaps increased use now of Jabril Cox led to the move bc of ⬇️ <a href="https://t.co/2YkPjxS6Ij">https://t.co/2YkPjxS6Ij</a>
Before any of those players arrived, The Athletic's Bob Sturm contemplated whether Dallas should cut Smith and concluded he earned a shot under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. However, Sturm followed up in August and raised doubts about whether the 2016 second-round pick could improve his glaring deficiencies.
"But I fear Smith right now is reading things slowly and that his body is making him play slowly, too," he wrote. "I don’t think that is something that can be overcome long term."
After sitting out his entire rookie season, Smith hasn't missed a game, but the knee injury he suffered in college is likely the kind of thing that will follow him wherever he goes. The potential for another major injury is a concern, as is how his body will hold up over the long haul.
Michael David Smith @MichaelDavSmith
Jaylon Smith is a part-time player (56% of defensive snaps this season) with a history of a severe knee injury whose contract has a huge injury guarantee next season. Jerry Jones screwed up by giving Smith that contract and is now getting out of it to avoid the injury risk.
Between 2018 and 2020, Smith compiled 406 tackles, eight sacks and two interceptions. He's bound to get another opportunity in the NFL.
But the abrupt nature of his exit from Dallas is bound to raise questions about what kind of role he can fill elsewhere.