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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 21, 2019 12:10 am

Jaylon Smith signs big contract with Cowboys

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Jaylon Smith, one of the best linebackers in Fort Wayne and Notre Dame history, got a huge contract extension with the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, signing a five-year, $64 million deal that includes $35.5 million in guaranteed money. It means that Smith is signed to play for the Cowboys through the 2024-25 season.

The $12.8 million average annual value of Smith's contract is the fifth-highest among active middle linebackers and the guaranteed value of the contract is third among the same group. Without a doubt, this contract extension, coming as the Cowboys are trying to find ways to pay stars such as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, shows that Dallas believes the former Bishop Luers star is an elite linebacker.

"You took a risk, a $4.5 million risk, had I never been able to play again," Smith told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Jones' son, Stephen, who were sitting next to the linebacker at a news conference announcing the deal. "So me understanding that, it was my duty for them to get the return on their investment. They've been able to do that. And now I'm fortunate enough to really be a Cowboy for life, (which) is what I want. I'm thankful to be here, for sure."

The Cowboys picked Smith in the second round, with the 34th overall pick of the 2016 draft despite the fact that he suffered a catastrophic knee injury playing for Notre Dame in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, his final college game. Some wondered whether Smith would ever be able to play again after the injury, but Dallas, as Smith said, took a chance on his talent and it has proven to be the right decision.

"He does everything you want your linebackers to do," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Smith. "When you watched him as a college player it was like, wow. It leaped off the tape like, 'Who is this guy? That's the guy who hurt his knee? We've got to investigate that whole thing.' And we did and we're really happy that we made the decision that we did."

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Smith, an All-American at Notre Dame and winner of the Dick Butkus Award as college football's top linebacker in 2015, didn't play at all in 2016 as he recovered from his knee injury, but has played in 32 straight games over the last two seasons. In 2018, he recorded 121 tackles, including six for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and added a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

"This is a contract story that is not just this year or not just next year, this has it all," Jerry Jones said. "It has overcoming. It has talent. It has rewarding an ambition. Or it just has the beginning of what ambition will get you in the future. That's the biggest, most exciting thing about this."

dsinn@jg.net