Mac Engel

Jerry Jones’ latest draft-day gamble looks like a loss

Forget the draft. The most intriguing player for the Dallas Cowboys this spring is the same as last spring, and other than Jerry Jones, no one knows anything about Jaylon Smith.

Per Doctor Jerry, the linebacker is improving and he should be cleared for full contact in training camp.

Right now the plan is for Smith to wear a brace for the dreaded “drop foot.” If Smith is trying to play with a drop foot, the Cowboys should drop everything and plan to select not one but two linebackers during this week’s NFL Draft.

Rolando McClain couldn’t resist the purple drank, so he’s not walkin’ through that door, and planning for Sean Lee to play a full 16 games again is like betting on Donald Trump to refrain from tweeting.

Until the Cowboys can watch Jaylon Smith play a football game, or even participate in a full football practice, where he hits other football players, the best plan is just to assume he is done. That he was the gamble that crapped out.

On Monday, Jerry was selling his latest risk-pick like the “undervalued car” on the lot that you simply can’t ignore.

“I can’t tell you how excited we drafted Jaylon last year,” Jerry said. “That feels good.”

Jerry is alone with this sentiment. This, of course, is not unusual.

After watching the Cowboys’ defense last year it’s readily apparent they don’t need defensive bodies. They need defensive players. They need guys who can make substantial plays around and at the ball. They have enough guys who make tackles 8 and 10 yards down the field.

Coming out of Notre Dame, Smith was a better version of Sean Lee. But as it stands today the status of Smith being a real player is a myth subsidized by a Jerry prayer.

Smith has yet to play a football game since he shredded his knee on Jan. 1, 2016, in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl game against Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State.

Despite the knee damage, the Cowboys selected the player with the 34th overall pick in last year’s draft. It was a classic Vegas Jerry move.

Sometimes those risks work, and turn out to be Dez Bryant. Or they crap out when the player is Randy Gregory.

Unlike those aforementioned players, who had the dreaded “character” red flags attached to their draft reports, the only strike on Smith’s card was the knee.

But after interviewing Smith, the Cowboys were smitten. Smith’s personality and considerable charisma could convince an atheist to try out Sunday school.

Jerry drafted Smith because he had a top-10 player in the second round. The bargain was the priority. Jerry is a billionaire and yet is eternally enamored with 20 percent off. Perhaps that’s why he is a billionaire.

All that had to happen for Jerry to get the so-desired good deal to work is that Smith’s knee had to heal nicely. Or the way the doctors who told Jerry and the Cowboys, “It should.”

It hasn’t.

It’s one year later and Smith has yet to hit another player, and now the plan is for him to wear a brace as he deals with nerve damage caused by that scary hit.

There are sprinkles of encouraging news that the “nerve is firing!” in Smith’s knee.

On Monday, Jerry said Smith is, “lifting those toes, lifting those toes, feeling those toes.”

It’s exciting and uplifting to watch Smith run around cones or do a few drills on Instagram.

But that isn’t football. He has not asked that knee to play the game yet.

This was always a part of the risk: that the knee simply may never recover.

What Jerry is selling is different than what Smith may not be able to physically deliver.

“I’m not being an optimist over this ... he’s warranted in my view of what we had him evaluated and hoped he would be when we drafted him in the second (round),” Jerry said. “He’s made that a good pick.”

If you are wondering how the other linebacker the Cowboys could have selected at that spot — UCLA’s Myles Jack — has done to date, it’s not a big loss. Jack was picked two slots after Smith, but played only 21 percent of the Jaguars’ defensive snaps last season, and finished with a half a sack.

But he played 16 games and started 10.

Even if Smith’s knee doesn’t fully respond, he plans to play. With a brace. Even though the Cowboys know of no other player who has ever done this successfully at this position. There are some examples of offensive linemen pulling it off, but a linebacker is a more demanding set of circumstances.

No one knows how this is going go, and no one with the Cowboys is drinking from Jerry’s Fountain of Endless Optimism on this one.

The hope is that Smith is the steal Jerry dreams of landing because the team needs it. That he is the type of defender who makes substantial plays around and at the ball. Because they already have enough guys who make tackles 8 and 10 yards down the field.

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