Free Agency Tracker | 2020

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Aldon Smith's Long Journey Lands Him in Dallas

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The Cowboys are no strangers to giving players a second chance. 

Whether the player is coming off an injury, returning from retirement or in many cases dealing with off-the-field issues, the Cowboys have welcomed in their share of projects looking to resurrect their careers. 

And the latest such player is Aldon Smith, who agreed to a one-year contract that could reportedly pay him $4 million next year, based off incentives. 

The Cowboys can only hope he returns to the form that once made Smith an elite pass rusher in the NFL. 

Coming out of Missouri, Smith was originally selected No. 7 overall by San Francisco in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he immediately set about becoming one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league. Without starting a single game, he posted 14 sacks as a rookie. He followed that up by notching 19.5 sacks in 2012, earning first-team All-Pro honors and helping the 49ers reach Super Bowl XLVII.

The problems began in 2013, as Smith was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana after a single-car accident in San Jose, Calif. He ultimately entered a rehabilitation facility and missed five games. He returned to the field for the final month of the season and finished with 8.5 sacks.

It continued into 2014, as Smith pleaded no contest to six separate charges incurred and was sentenced to 12 days in jail. He was also involved in an incident at Los Angeles International Airport, where he was taken into custody after making a bomb threat.

All of that led to heavy NFL discipline to open the 2014 season, as he was suspended for the first nine games of the year for violating both the league's substance abuse and personal conduct policies. He eventually played in seven games and tallied two sacks in 2014, but an arrest for a third DUI charge in the summer of 2015 prompted the 49ers to part ways with their former star.

His release from San Francisco led Smith across the Bay to Oakland, where he signed a one-year deal with the Raiders. He managed 28 tackles and 3.5 sacks in nine games there, but his season was eventually cut short when he was issued a one-year NFL suspension for the arrest the previous summer.

Smith applied for reinstatement in the fall of 2016, but he did not receive it. As a result, he has not played an NFL down ever since. The Raiders eventually released him in the spring of 2018 after an alleged domestic violence incident of a "non-lethal" nature. 

There have been other run-ins during his lengthy suspension. Smith was arrested in March of 2018 for violating a court order, and he was arrested in June of 2019 for a traffic violation that led to a suspicion of DUI.

Still, recent reports indicate that Smith is clean and sober.

If that's indeed the case, it's obvious why the Cowboys would want to a gamble on him. For starters, Smith's nearly five-year absence from NFL football means he is an inexpensive signing. Coupled with that is the fact that, with only 67 career games under his belt at the age of 30, Smith has relatively little wear-and-tear for a player his age. It's also worth noting that new Cowboys defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was Smith's position coach for the vast majority of his 49ers career.

 Assuming he can recapture even a hint of his All-Pro form, Smith could offer up a high reward with fairly little risk.

Smith figures to help the Cowboys on the right side of the defensive line – a position that is missing some firepower since Robert Quinn left in free agency. Prior to signing Smith, the Cowboys' only experienced options at the position were Tyrone Crawford, who is coming off an injury-shortened 2019 season, and Dorance Armstrong, who has just 2.5 career sacks.

In addition, the Cowboys are optimistic they can bring back a similar restoration project in Randy Gregory, who has also run afoul of the NFL's disciplinary system – albeit for vastly different reasons.

Until then, though, Smith should, at the very least, help the depth of the position as the Cowboys inch closer to the 2020 NFL Draft.

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