OXNARD, Calif. — While talks with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper have mostly stalled over the summer, the Dallas Cowboys have signed a key piece to their future, with linebacker Jaylon Smith agreeing to a five-year, $65 million deal with $35.5 guaranteed, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The deal makes Smith, 24, the third-highest-paid inside linebacker in the league in terms of guaranteed money.
Smith was set to become a restricted free agent after this season, but he opted to take the security of a longer-term deal now rather than going through a potentially protracted negotiation. The Cowboys also opted for getting a deal done now despite having control over Smith for the next four years, including his restricted free agency tender in 2020 and two functional franchise tag years after that.
On Aug. 13, owner and general manager Jerry Jones hinted at the possibility of an extension getting finalized.
Talks were first broached in the spring between Smith’s agents and the Cowboys, and with negotiations with the offensive stars stalled, the discussions picked up during training camp.
Perhaps Smith’s history played a factor in his seeking an extension early.
In 2016, he was projected as a top-five pick but suffered a major injury to his knee, tearing two ligaments and suffering nerve damage that scared away many teams from selecting him. The Cowboys took him in the second round, No. 34 overall, in part because one of their physicians, Daniel Cooper, performed the surgery on Smith.
The Cowboys knew Smith would not play his rookie season but now view him as a cornerstone piece after his comeback. Smith addressed his long journey back on social media after news of his new deal broke on Tuesday.
3 and a half years ago on Jan 1st, 2016,
Tears in my eyes,
My life changed forever.
I embraced each moment.
I had a focused vision, determined belief and now I have earned one of my dreams! #ClearEyeView | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/xqNDGFNSFS
— Jaylon Smith (@thejaylonsmith) August 20, 2019
Because Smith spent the 2016 season on the non-football injury list, he did not earn an accrued year toward free agency, which is why he would have been a restricted free agent following the 2019 season.
Smith has not missed a game in his two seasons and has been credited by the coaches with 249 tackles. He started every game in 2018, finishing second on the team in tackles (150) and with four sacks, five tackles for loss, 13 quarterback pressures, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter contributed to this report.