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Don't get excited about the Cowboys signing Aldon Smith

The Dallas Cowboys have a need for a pass rush specialist so they took a flier on Aldon Smith who hasn’t played in the league since 2015
Credit: AP Photo/Ben Margot
Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith (99) sits on the bench during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015.

DALLAS —

The Dallas Cowboys added to their pass rush by signing former All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith. The former San Francisco 49ers 2011 first-round pick has not played a snap since the 2015 season with the Oakland Raiders.

And, for that reason, there is little to get excited about. 

There is a connection that brought Smith to the attention of the Cowboys, and it is their new defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula. Though Tomsula was the 49ers' defensive line coach from 2007-14, and Smith was an outside linebacker, Tomsula knew the talent Smith possessed. He was on the sidelines every game and in practice every day seeing the former Missouri Tiger rise as one of the NFL's premier pass rushers.

Tomsula was also the man who released Smith in the 2015 preseason and told him to go get help. 

More than a punitive move, Tomsula said publicly that the 49ers organization would help Smith, who had recently sustained his third DUI, get the help he needed to get his life back on track — ala Buddy Ryan releasing receiver Cris Carter in the 1990 preseason.

Ostensibly, Smith has his life turned around. Midway through March he applied for reinstatement  after being out of the NFL for four seasons. The native of Raytown, Mo., will be 31 years old on Sept. 25, approaching Week 3 of his comeback season.

If you think the Cowboys replaced Robert Quinn or found a complement to DeMarcus Lawrence, don't get your hopes up. 

Some people on Twitter panned the signing, especially people who should know better. This is the other part of why the Smith signing isn't that exciting, even from a negative standpoint.

All 32 NFL teams are filling out their 90-man rosters that they will take into their offseason program, which, for the Cowboys, was set to begin next week. The COVID-19 pandemic complicates everything, because that process has been delayed. 

Nonetheless, presuming the world was devoid of COVID-19 and its interminable pause on regular life, the Cowboys would have Smith in the building. They would get to see if he was mentally and physically serious about returning to football.

By the way, signing an aging veteran doesn't mean a team has "fixed" a position of need. Last offseason, Dallas signed former Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings safety George Iloka. In the draft, they took Texas A&M's Donovan Wilson. Guess who didn't make the cut past the weekend when preseason ended. The Cowboys chose to keep the young player over the veteran.

When the draft is over, the rookies have their mini-camp, and the organized team activities kickoff, that is when coaches really get a glimpse of the composition of the team they're taking into training camp. 

For an out-of-football 30-year-old like Smith, this would be the most vulnerable part of his offseason. If he can't convince Tomsula, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, and coach Mike McCarthy that he has something to contribute on the 90-man roster, he would be one of the team's cuts in mid-June during the offseason's final doldrums.

Even if Smith got to training camp, his body would have to hold up through the rigors of camp and he would have to compete with youngsters who have been playing football, even at the college level, while he has been out of the sport for four years. For players in their thirties, recovery is a much bigger factor than it was in their first couple of seasons in the NFL.

If Smith made it past final cuts, it would mean one of two things: either he really had gotten back into the groove and the Cowboys are getting the 49ers version of Smith, or they weren't able to cultivate enough competition and Smith won the job by default.

Don't get excited if you think Smith can help the pass rush; he has to help himself first and make the team.

Don't get excited if you think the Cowboys "blew it" signing Smith; they're filling out their offseason roster and he has more to lose than they do.

Are you happy that the Cowboys decided to take a chance on Smith or would you rather they try a different avenue to bolster their pass rush? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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