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Cowboys deal with Jaylon Smith underscores Ezekiel Elliott problem

Vincent Frank
Ezekiel Elliott COVID-19
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys made news on Tuesday by signing stud young linebacker Jaylon Smith to a five-year, $64 million extension. Despite having started a total of 22 games since being selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Smith’s deal comes in at a major value for Dallas.

The low down: Smith might be a top-five paid inside linebacker, but he could have gotten a whole lot more. Less than $13 million annually for one of the best young defenders in the game is an absolute steal.

Just look at what other inside linebackers are getting paid on a per-year basis.

  • Bobby Wagner: $18 million
  • C.J. Mosley: $17 million
  • Deion Jones $14.25 million
  • Kwon Alexander $13.5 million

The sample size: Dallas did take a considerable risk in handing Smith $35.5 million in total guarantees.

  • Remember, Smith suffered a serious leg injury during his final season at Notre Dame. This cost him his entire rookie year.
  • Despite this, Smith has morphed into a dominant off-ball linebacker.
  • Last season saw the former Golden Domer record 121 tackles, six quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
  • Still only 24 years old, Smith took this deal for financial security. He likely could have earned a lot more by playing out his rookie deal.

It says something about Ezekiel Elliott: We’d be ignorant to ignore the optics of Smith’s extension and press conference.

  • Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had some pretty heated words for this holdout running back following Smith’s press conference.
  • It’s a continuation of a PR feud between the Pro Bowler and the Dallas brass.
  • More than that, the Smith extension tells us a story of a team that’s willing to lock up those who are all in.
  • Right now, Elliott remains in Mexico and no real traction has been made in terms of contract extension talks.

We also have to look at other situations: Both Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are in line for extensions. Each player has taken a different stance than Elliott.

  • This is no small thing. Dallas rewarded a player who has gone to battle with his team this summer. The Smith extension had been in the works for some time.
  • While Prescott is said to be demanding a record pay day, the lines of communication remain open between the two sides.
  • The same thing can be said about Cooper, who is with the team despite being sidelined to injury.

What does this all mean? It was not a mistake that Dallas announced Smith’s extension in the midst of Elliott’s holdout. If we know anything about Jerry Jones, it’s that he’s not afraid to send a message to his players.

Elliott remains away from the team. Jones isn’t happy. The owner then decided to reward another one of his star players.

Read into it what you will.

But it does beg a major question. What if the Cowboys lock up either Prescott or Cooper prior to Week 1? That would send yet another message to Elliott as the two sides continue to work through issues in a very public manner.

The Smith extension represents the latest example of this.