PFF suggests Cowboys send Jaylon Smith to AFC West in post-June 1 move

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Jaylon Smith’s status as the most controversial defender on the Dallas Cowboys roster has been running strong for the better part of the last two seasons. Following being a snub to the 2018 Pro Bowl, Smith’s play has regressed in each of the last two seasons, although he did get a nod to the All-Star team in 2019 as an alternate.

As such, his sizable contract extension handed out two years early has been under fire. The extension doesn’t actually kick in until this season and calls from fans have been loud to jettison the former second-round pick, especially after the club added linebacker (yes, linebacker) Keanu Neal in free agency then used a first and fourth-round pick on the position as well. The issue, until today, is that Smith’s base salary for 2021 guaranteed early in the league year before those acquisitions, and it would be very costly to have moved on from him. That isn’t the case anymore as the calendar has turned to June.

Many fans know of the June 1st designation as a roster move that has everything to do with the early portions of free agency, but the date itself does mean a lot in NFL circles. In the recent iterations of the collective bargaining agreement, teams have been able to designate up to two players who they release during the first phase of the new league year, but they get to treat them as if they were released after June 1.

Why does that matter? Prior to that date, any player who is released will see all of the remaining unallocated signing bonus money accelerate onto the current league year. Say a player got a five-year deal with a $25 million signing bonus. That bonus money is spread evenly over the five salary caps, $5 million each. If a team wants to get out of the deal after two seasons, there’s still $15 million.

So whatever savings would be reaped from lopping off a player’s base salary gets nullified because the future year’s bonus money is now moved to the current year.

The June 1st designation takes away that issue, allowing teams to pretend the player isn’t released until after. When released on June 2 or later, only the current year’s signing bonus allocation counts for the current year. The future years’ allocation will accelerate onto the following year’s cap, and that’s what makes Smith a viable trade candidate as of Wednesday.

Because of the guaranteed money of Smith’s deal, he cannot be released. Another team could sign him for the veteran’s minimum and Dallas would have to pay the rest of his $7.6 million salary to play for someone else. That’s cash out of pocket and not going to happen.

However, he could be traded and that’s exactly what Pro Football Focus recommends in their June 1st survey around the league. Smith is one of six players identified as potential move players and their solution is to send him to the Los Angeles Chargers for a fifth-round pick.

Hypothetical Trade: Jaylon Smith → Los Angeles Chargers for 2022 5th

Pre-June 1 dead money: $9,400,000
Pre-June 1 cap savings: $400,000

Post-June 1 dead money: $2,600,000
Post-June 1 cap savings: $7,200,000

Difference in 2021 cap savings: $6,800,000

In addition, new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has already made it clear that he plans to use his former Falcons S Keanu Neal in a Will linebacker role. Smith was reportedly transitioning into more of a WLB role ahead of the 2020 season with Vander Esch taking over more responsibility at MLB, but then he got hurt. So, in summation, Parsons is an even better blitzer than Smith, and now there are possibly two better coverage options for nickel packages in Neal and Cox. All of this begs the question of whether Jaylon Smith may be available, even after he dropped the dough to switch his jersey to No. 9.

The Los Angeles Chargers have the opposite problem, featuring a razor-thin linebacker group beyond 2020 first-round pick Kenneth Murray. Murray is an up-and-comer at the MLB spot, but with Denzel Perryman signed away by the Carolina Panthers, Kyzir White is the only linebacker on the roster who played more than 13 snaps in 2020 (he finished with a 52.5 grade). The Chargers used the No. 185 overall pick in the sixth round on Iowa LB Nick Niemann, but that doesn’t guarantee much.

It remains unlikely the Cowboys will part with Smith this season. Beyond what he his on-field performance is and whether his play matches his salary, he is valued by the front office. Unless there were a reason Dallas needed to create more cap room, they will likely retain his services despite the obvious log jam at the position.

As previous years have shown, injuries tend to mount and what seems like superfluous depth now could be needed in the near future.

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