Aldon Smith's name came up quite a bit in the week leading up to the NFL's trade deadline. His future beyond this season is anybody's guess. But short-term uncertainty is likely no big deal for a guy who was forced to take four years off from professional football to address his battle with addiction.
The Cowboys reportedly turned away multiple trade inquiries for Smith, who is a free agent this offseason, before the deadline. Their decision, and Smith's reaction to it on Thursday might say less about the future than it does the present.
Smith told the media that he's "extremely grateful for the chance" that the Cowboys gave him in the offseason when most assumed that his career was over. "I mean, I appreciate that," he said, earnestly. He's shown that gratitude by exceeding expectations and leading the Cowboys in sacks. Smith laughed at the question of what the Cowboys' decision not to trade him meant and pointed out the obvious. "They have faith in me and they want me here."
One could speculate that it means the Cowboys are hoping to sign him to another contract next offseason, but that will be no guarantee, and Smith claims that's not on his mind. "I'm not thinking about next season. I really just want to---I want to win. That's what I'm worried about. That's what's on my mind."
On Tuesday, Jerry Jones praised the evolution that Smith has taken as a player since his time as an All-Pro player in San Francisco and how he has adjusted his game to remain an impactful player. Smith has more than earned his second chance in the NFL, and he's still in the process of setting the value of his next contract, whether it be in Dallas or elsewhere.
Ultimately, continued production this season will benefit Smith's future, and as disastrous as this season has been for the Cowboys, the playoffs are bizarrely still relatively attainable. Smith's place on the roster signals that the Cowboys want to win more games this season, and they aren't in any hurry to part ways with one of their few undeniable bright spots.
The Cowboys' most immediate task at hand is the 7-0 Steelers and their imposing quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a man Smith had his share of success against in his younger days. The newest version of Smith isn't quite as quick as he used to be in his 49er days, but he's definitely stronger as a Cowboy. Strength is something you need against a quarterback like Roethlisberger.
"You just have to hit him like you hit any other quarterback," Smith said. "I mean, he's big, but tackle him."
Smith has been limited in practice this week with a knee injury, but didn't give the impression that he plans on missing the game on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.