One of the few positives to come out of the wreckage of the New York Giants’ season-ending six-game losing streak was the acquisition and subsequent play of veteran linebacker Jaylon Smith.
The 2016 second-round pick fell out of favor in Dallas last season, got released midseason and signed with the Green Bay Packers, played only two games there before being tossed out onto the NFL scrap heap, and ended playing the final four games of the season for the Giants.
Does Smith, who turns 27 in June, deserve an opportunity to return to the Giants in 2022?
2021 salary cap hit (pro-rated): $165,000
Making the case
Smith played in four games for the Giants, the first one perhaps less than 48 hours after signing. He quickly showed more athleticism and instinctive play than any linebacker on the roster with the possible exception of Tae Crowder.
In his debut, Smith played 17 snaps. In the three subsequent games, he played 47, 46 and 44 snaps — at least 70 percent in each of those games. He made 19 tackles, had a sack and a pass defensed.
In that small sample size, Smith’s 69.2 was the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any Giants linebacker.
Does Smith deserve to come back? On a low-cost, one-year “prove-it” deal I would say absolutely, regardless of whether or not the Giants bring Blake Martinez back.
Smith will never be the athlete he could have been had he not suffered that devastating Fiesta Bowl injury in his final game at Notre Dame. He is, though, still a more athletic linebacker than other 2021 Giants reserves Reggie Ragland and Benardrick McKinney.
Total tackles is not the right way to judge how good a linebacker is, but Smith had 121, 142 and 154 tackles with the Dallas Cowboys from 2018-2020.
He still looked like a useful player during his month-long tryout with the Giants last season. The Giants’ new regime should give him a chance to show that in 2022.