With the draft now in the rearview mirror, Ron Rivera and other Commanders’ staff have been asked about any remaining holes they see in the team’s roster. To the surprise of almost no one, Rivera has made it clear that procuring additional linebacker depth is a priority.
In the interest of trying to get a handle on which veteran options currently on the market might be a good fit in Washington, a number of posters, most notably Atticus17, have been doing a deep dive into the top free agents available. As part of an exchange earlier today, I did some digging of my own, and not surprisingly, nearly all of the linebackers on the market have some shortcomings that have caused them to remain available to date.
From my perspective, what Washington needs is a rotational depth piece who can be an asset stopping the passing game - the team seems to have several depth run stopping specialists on the roster - at a modest salary, who, ideally, still has some tread left on the tires.
Going down the free agent list from Overthecap.com, one player stood out to me after some background reading. Jaylon Smith, most recently of the Giants, played around 29% of snaps last year for the very reasonable price of $990k. Smith is still only 27, though the Giants were his third team in two years.
Smith’s history is a fascinating one. Before suffering a horrific leg injury, tearing both his ACL and MCL at the end of his 2015 season at Notre Dame, Smith was projected to be a high first round pick. Even with his injury, the Cowboys ended up using the number 34 pick on Smith in the 2016 draft.
Smith was a solid player in Dallas, but never lived up to the game-changing expectations Jerry Jones had for him, and once the Cowboys drafted Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox in the 2021 draft, Smith’s salary was seen as an opportunity for cap savings.
Smith was picked up by the Packers, played with them for two games, and then was released last November. He was then signed by the Giants in December, playing 4 games for them (starting 2), collecting 19 tackles and a sack.
Curious as to what Giants fans thought of Smith, I checked out Big Blue View. The sentiments from Giants fans were encouraging:
In his debut, Smith played 17 snaps. In the three subsequent games, he played 47, 46 and 44 snaps — at least 70 percent in each of those games. He made 19 tackles, had a sack and a pass defensed.
In that small sample size, Smith’s 69.2 was the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any Giants linebacker.
A sampling from the comments on the article includes these quotes:
I thought Jaylon flashed for the Giants in the woeful last quarter of last season. He’s still a young man and is a straight out baller when he’s right. A team which has Micah Parsons might look at Jaylon differently but from the standpoint at 16W he looks like a good ‘backer.
He’s one of the few bright spots from last season.
Given the cap situation and rebuilding nature of the roster, I think Smith makes a ton of sense (provided he’s as cheap as expected).
If he doesn’t work out or gets beat out my a young player, not a lot lost. (Latter could actually be a win.)
He might be a guy who revived his career, though, to give some contributions. Could even stick around a while. (Doubt Giants will be net losers of free agents to get comp picks in a year when cap space opens… so even if Smith really wows and leaves, doubt he’s helping with comp picks.)
bigblueview: Jaylon Smith had the Giants' best defensive PFF grade on Sunday. He was on the street three weeks ago. pic.twitter.com/xTtpmXXV9N— New York Giants News (@NYGNEWS1) January 4, 2022
That all sounds encouraging, but what did the beat writers think of Smith’s play? In a piece on the Giants FanNation blog, one of the writers profiled Smith among the teams 2022 free agents. Highlights from that piece include:
In 154 snaps on defense, Smith gathered 19 combined tackles, one sack, and one pass defended. Smith turned out to be the best coverage linebacker on the Giants defense, and he put that on full display. Smith managed to earn an 80.8 pass coverage rating from Pro Football Focus, a career-high for the five-year vet.
But what makes Smith so special to have, is the versatility and athleticism he brings for this position. He’s more than just a coverage linebacker who not only has a knack for committing big-time tackles, thanks to his anticipation. He can also play a critical factor in stopping the run and assisting with the pass rush.
Considering the Giants desperate need for athletic, speedy, pass coverage linebackers, they should try to do everything they can to bring Smith back on a cost-efficient deal.
Washington is actually in a far better space, cap wise, than the Giants are with about $5.2M in “effective cap space” compared to the Giants -$7.1M.
Smith appears to be a pass-stopping LB, well-suited to a rotational role in a linebacking corps, who could be had on a modest 1-2 year deal, and who is already tremendously familiar with the NFC East. What do you think about taking a shot on Smith?
Packers released Jaylon Smith after 2 games, 27 snaps and 38.4 PFF rating— John Kazar (@KazarNFL) November 4, 2021
What in the hell happened to THIS guy? pic.twitter.com/wXhq1lDclx
Under what conditions would you like to see the Commanders sign Jaylon Smith?
1-year deal worth around $1.5M
2-year deal, worth around $2M AAV, with additional incentives.
Not interested in Smith, but I’d like to see them sign another LB (ID in the comments).