Hope for Jaylon Smith’s departure speaks more to his standing with fans than it does the Cowboys’ intention

A significant portion of fans went into this week convinced the Cowboys would part ways

A significant portion of fans went into this week convinced the Cowboys would part ways with Jaylon Smith rather than guarantee his $7.2 million base salary for the upcoming season.

This speaks more to his standing among Cowboys Nation than it does the club’s intention.

There are no internal indications that Dallas gave serious thought to moving on from Smith. There was no drama, no last-minute reprieve needed in the hours leading up to Sunday afternoon’s deadline to guarantee Smith’s return.

Yet there were those outside the organization who hung on that deadline, waiting to see his fate. It was their belief — or hope — that the club would rather carve out the cap space than stick with a linebacker who has started 48 consecutive games.

Others took the addition of safety Keanu Neal in free agency, and the reports that he might be used at weakside linebacker, as proof that Smith was on his way out. But ask yourself this:

Why would Dallas guarantee Smith’s base salary if it signed Neal to take his place? Would the club pay him that much to move him to strongside linebacker, where he’d get 20 to 25 snaps a game?

Neal gives the Cowboys a versatile player, one who can play safety and then slide down to be used at a linebacker spot in the nickel. That’s not an indictment of Smith.

That’s called today’s NFL.

All of this illustrates how Smith’s reputation has taken a hit since he overcame a devastating injury to return to the field. His exuberance, a quality fans once embraced, now comes across as an inflated sense of worth.

The Swipe is Smith’s signature celebration. His indiscriminate use of the move, too often coming after a good individual play is made when his team is hopelessly behind, has turned many fans off.

Whether Dak Prescott is worth the contract he recently signed has been the most polarizing debate among Cowboys fans the last two seasons.

Smith’s value to the team is next.

This will be one of the biggest reclamation projects facing new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Can he put Smith in position to reclaim the promise he flashed after moving into the starting lineup? Can he get Smith and Leighton Vander Esch back to the level they performed in 2018?

Smith isn’t coming off a good season. But he’s not abysmal. He’s not as bad as critics allege.

Now, if he doesn’t return to form over the course of this season …

Well, the Cowboys will take a different approach next March.

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