FRISCO, Texas — Head coach Mike McCarthy said veteran linebacker Jaylon Smith's release "wasn't an easy decision" for the franchise, but ultimately a "big picture roster move."
"We felt this was the time to do it," McCarthy said. "I just think like anything, there's always factors involved in how you build your 90-man roster. … Jaylon's an excellent football player. There's other factors involved in this decision.
"He played good football for us. In my time with him, he totally bought into the new direction of the program and everything we've done. The guy practices every single day and plays his ass off. I have nothing but respect for him."
McCarthy didn't elaborate on the specific factors for releasing Smith, the Cowboys' leading tackler the past two seasons and a Pro Bowl selection in 2019. But the club's influx of talent at linebacker resulted in a significant drop in playing time, from 97.8% of the defensive snaps last season to just 56.1% through four games this year.
First-round draft pick Micah Parsons has emerged as focal point on defense, and veteran signing Keanu Neal has gotten extensive playing time when healthy (he's expected to be back from the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week). Fourth-round draft pick Jabril Cox will have a chance to earn more playing time moving forward.
"This is about progress and a little more clarity of defensive packages and personnel groups and how we want to play," McCarthy said.
Finances also likely factored into Smith's release. Smith is guaranteed $7.2 million in base salary, but Smith reportedly would've received roughly $9 million in guaranteed money next year in the event of injury.
McCarthy said he spoke to Smith after Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, and the conversations were "very positive."
"He obviously had a great career here, obviously has very strong ties to the organization and the obviously the Dallas community," McCarthy said. "Those conversations are personal, but I thought he handled it very well."