What role he will fill has yet to be determined, but expect him to see some time next to De’Vondre Campbell on passing downs at some point.
After Wednesday’s flurry of activity around the NFL, the Green Bay packers did eventually pounce on signing a big-name player who became available. No, it was not All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who ended up being traded to the Carolina Panthers, but instead former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith.
According to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, the Packers are indeed signing Smith to a one-year contract through the end of the 2021 season.
Smith’s departure from the Dallas Cowboys came amid him losing his starting job. Although he has played in every game since the start of the 2017 season and had started each contest in the 2018, 2019, and 2020 campaigns, Smith fell out of favor this year, starting just two of Dallas’ four games so far. He also has lined up on only 55 percent of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps after exceeding 92 percent each of the past three seasons. Dallas drafted linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round this April as a likely replacement, but Smith has even been running behind former safety Keanu Neal of late.
The contract Smith signs with the Packers will likely be at or near the league minimum salary. This is because of the structure of the contract extension he signed with the Cowboys in August of 2019, which was worth nearly $64 million over five years. By keeping him on their roster through this offseason, the Cowboys fully guaranteed his $7 million salary for 2021, so his compensation for the remainder of the season is already covered.
Whether Smith can contribute in a meaningful way to the Packers’ roster will wait to be seen. He has been a productive tackler, setting a career-high in 2020 with 154 total tackles. Smith’s draft status in 2016 was a fascinating one, however, as he tore his ACL and MCL in Notre Dame’s bowl game after the 2015 season, which came after he had declared for the NFL Draft. The Cowboys chose to draft him with the 34th overall pick a few months later, knowing that he would likely miss his entire rookie season.
The Packers have a resurgent De’Vondre Campbell locking down one inside linebacker spot, but the other position has rotated through a cast of characters. Second-year pro Krys Barnes is the normal starter, but he has been dealing with injuries the past two games, giving way to Ty Summers in base alignments and Oren Burks in nickel personnel. Smith’s coverage ability, if it remains effective, could earn him snaps in the long term, particularly in passing situations.
One connection that likely helped drive Smith’s decision to sign in Green Bay is his familiarity with head coach Matt LaFleur. LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame in 2014, Smith’s sophomore season.