Former NFL All-Pro and sack artist Aldon Smith returned to the league last season with the Dallas Cowboys after missing the past four years due to numerous off-field issues.
A dominating pass rusher with the San Francisco 49ers back in 2011 and 2012, Smith’s substance abuse issues are by now well-known. They seemed to be behind him with the Cowboys last season, as the former seventh overall pick acted the part of their most consistent pass rusher. In 16 games (all starts), Smith recorded 14 quarterback hits and five sacks.
Apparently, that was not enough for the Cowboys to retain the 31-year-old pass rusher. According to numerous media reports, Dallas has opted against re-signing him.
This is somewhat surprising in the grand scheme of things. Smith seemed to have his house in order off the field last season. Owner Jerry Jones also pushed back against moving the former Missouri standout to the Seattle Seahawks ahead of the Nov. 3 NFL trade deadline.
This seemed to suggest that a somewhat long-term marriage could have been in the cards between Smith and the Cowboys. Alas, that’s not the case.
Currently a free agent with the market dwindling, there’s going to be a number of squads interested in Smith on a team-friendly contract. Here’s a look at four potential landing spots.
As noted above, Seattle was interested in trading for Smith ahead of last season’s deadline. Even after signing Kerry Hyder away from the San Francisco 49ers in free agency, pass rush becomes a major need for Pete Carroll’s squad.
While Seattle recorded 46 sacks a season ago, very little of that came from the edge pass rush position. In fact, safety Jamal Adams and defensive tackle Jarran Reed combined for 16 of those sacks. This is a major need for the Seahawks. Without much cap room and only three selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, Smith becomes a realistic option in free agency.
A team that has always relied on edge rushers to provide consistent pressure on the quarterback, Baltimore is in a less-than-ideal situation right now. It lost Pro Bowlers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency. The team’s leading sack-getter from a season ago, Calais Campbell, is getting up there in age and recorded just four quarterback takedowns in 2020.
It goes without saying that Baltimore will target this position early in next month’s NFL Draft. In no way does this mean that Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta will ignore the remaining NFL free agent market. That’s where Smith comes into play as a perfect scheme fit and cost-effective option.
Speaking of Judon, the Patriots did a great job adding him to their underwhelming pass rush core. The return of Kyle Van Noy should help in this regard, too. A surprisingly active Patriots squad could look for even more pass rush help moving forward in free agency.
New England has taken chances on similar players in the past. There’s no reason to believe Bill Belichick and Co. will stop now as the Patriots look to rebound from their first losing season since 2000. This would be a very Patriot-like move.
There’s a number of potential hiccups to the 49ers bringing Smith back. Primarily, how would it work after they gave him so many chances to prove himself off the field from 2011-14?
However, there’s also a lot to like about a potential reunion. San Francisco needs pass rush help behind Nick Bosa, who is coming off a torn ACL. It is not in the greatest of cap situations. Meanwhile, the organization has changed leaps and bounds since the Jim Harbaugh era. Kyle Shanahan is a more player-friendly coach. There’s a ton of veterans on defense to help Smith. There’s a community within the organization that can help him stay on the right path. It almost makes too much sense.