The NFL world was shaken up not once, but twice within the space of 24 hours. The Dallas Cowboys led things off by releasing linebacker Jaylon Smith, knowing fully well that they still have to pay him over $7M. Not to be outdone, the New England Patriots released one of the best cornerbacks of the past decade, Stephon Gilmore.
With more cap space than most, the Philadelphia Eagles are in a position to spend if they see the need to. The question is a simple one. “Should they?”
Why was he released?
Smith’s name is a household one. He had a thunderous breakout in 2018 and would be rewarded with a five-year, $64 million extension one year later. He thanked the Cowboys by making the Pro Bowl and posting a new career-high in tackles. While that number jumped even higher again in 2020 (154), his athletic ability seemed to dwindle.
This was a cause for concern for quite some time and his knee injury at Norte Dame was a reason why he fell to Dallas in the second round to begin with. Smith has been known to be vulnerable in coverage, sluggish in pursuit, and slow to react to plays.
Partnered with the arrival of Micah Parsons and the versatility of Keanu Neal, this pushed Smith all the way down the depth chart. He didn’t start any of the opening four games and played in 148 of 264 defensive snaps, notching only 19 tackles.
Should the Eagles be interested?
The Eagles have a dire need for help at linebacker. Outside of a rogue interception, Eric Wilson has proven to be a liability against the run and has struggled in coverage. But while Jaylon Smith would provide some ‘star power’ to the position, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll add the production that should marry the term.
The Howie Roseman prototype over the past few years has become one built on freaky athleticism and huge upside. Value is the name of the game with a belief that coaches can iron out fundamental kinks to develop a rare set of traits into tangible NFL talent. Unfortunately, Smith doesn’t fit that mold and would probably end up as a slightly more efficient version of Eric Wilson…which isn’t really worth the investment given the trajectory that the team are on. That 5% uptick won’t suddenly send them to a Super Bowl.
If the Cowboys are willing to swallow $7M just to get rid of Jaylon Smith, then something tells me that bringing him in wouldn’t be the wisest decision.
Besides, it’s not like former Cowboys seem to pan out when they put on an Eagles jersey…
This is the most shocking move of the two. Gilmore is 31-years-old and a former defensive player of the year. One of the best cornerbacks in the league, the veteran surprisingly sat out mandatory minicamp due to a contract dispute. The Pats were keeping a close eye on his health and he ended up starting the year on PUP.
With no cap space available, it was a blessing for New England that JC Jackson continued his breakout, picking off two passes in the opening four weeks of the season after tallying nine last year. It became clear that the Pats could survive without Gilmore and talks ultimately fell through, leading to his release.
Should the Eagles be interested?
Gilmore is in a similar boat to that which Steven Nelson captained during the offseason. He wants to be paid like a top cornerback after the Pats reworked his deal. The Eagles could make that happen, but he is 31 and coming off of a significant injury. It would be tough to expect Gilmore to come in, hit the ground running, and be immediately back to his best.
The Eagles also have a pretty big logjam in the secondary. Having just paid Steven Nelson, it’s not like they can just slot Gilmore in unless they shift the former Steeler to the nickel. Given that the Eagles don’t like running nickel/dime defenses this year for whatever reason, it would serve as a pretty huge price to pay for something that would force the Eagles to play a shell that Gannon doesn’t like.
Nobody is doubting Stephon Gilmore’s talent. The man was the defensive player of the year in 2019 and his heroics are immortal. But would his services send the Eagles to an NFC East title? Not while they’re bleeding 200 yards per game on the ground and refusing to adjust in a bid to fix it.
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