No Downside To Smith Signing
In one of the team’s biggest in-season acquisitions in 25 years, the Packers signed Jaylon Smith on Thursday. The former Pro Bowl inside linebacker was surprisingly released by the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the week. Smith was with Matt LaFleur at Notre Dame in 2014, and it’s a pretty safe bet the coach put in a good word with general manager Brian Gutekunst.
While fans and the media trashed Smith on his way out of town, his play wasn’t bad this season. I watched all 148 of his snaps and came away fairly impressed, especially with his work in coverage. He might not be the athlete he was prior to his devastating knee injury in 2016 or even a couple of years ago, but he still moves well enough to stay close to backs and tight ends in the middle of the field. Smith, along with De’Vondre Campbell, will give the Packers two inside linebackers who can cover, which is amazing for a team that most seasons this century didn’t have one.
Smith’s work versus the run wasn’t as impressive, and that, along with Dallas’ depth at the position, is probably why he’ll be wearing a G on his helmet for the next few months rather than a star. While he’s effective at going sideline to sideline to make a tackle, he really struggled at the point of attack. He’s often slow to get off blocks, and he rarely attacks the line of scrimmage. That’s why so many of his tackles come five or six yards down the field. Fortunately, Green Bay won’t have to play him on early downs as long as the more physical Krys Barnes is healthy.
The following are two plays from the Cowboys’ Week 3 game against the Philadelphia Eagles that pretty much epitomize Smith’s entire 2021 season to date. In the first video, he takes a questionable angle and is slow to get off the block. The result is a 24-yard run by Miles Sanders. In the second video, Smith stays with tight end Dallas Goedert for a few seconds and then uses his speed – which is still above average – to chase Jalen Hurts out of bounds.
Smith figures to settle in as a valuable role player once he learns the playbook. He’ll give Campbell and Barnes an occasional breather and be used in different packages that take advantage of his strengths. So expect to see him used mostly in coverage with the occasional blitz mixed in. And even if that means playing only 20 or so snaps a game, he’d still be one of the best bargains on the team. That’s because the Cowboys are paying Smith over $7 million this season, so he signed with the Packers for $770K. That’s less than Oren Burks and Isaac Yiadom are making.
This is one of the rare transactions that’s impossible to criticize. If it doesn’t work out, Gutekunst can release Smith with no negative impact on the salary cap. But if it does work out – and I think it will – the depth at inside linebacker will be improved, and so will the sub-packages. The latter is even more important now that outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is on IR following back surgery, and corner Jaire Alexander is dealing with a shoulder injury.
And one final thing – Smith is an energetic player who shows his love for the game on every snap. That alone is worth $770K.
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