Jaylon Smith signs with Cowboys; now when will he play?

IRVING, Texas -- The easy part was Jaylon Smith signing a four-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, which happened Friday. The hard part is figuring out when he will actually be able to play, which might not happen until 2017.

Smith became the fifth Cowboys draft pick to sign this week, a group that includes first-rounder Ezekiel Elliott. Smith will receive a $2.9 million signing bonus as part of the $6.494 million deal.

The Cowboys made a somewhat surprising decision in selecting Smith with the 34th overall pick because of a serious knee injury he suffered in Notre Dame's loss in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 to Elliott and Ohio State.

Smith tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee and also suffered nerve damage. Though the knee was declared structurally sound at the medical recheck prior to the draft, the nerve has yet to refire and will need time.

Smith is likely to miss this season, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones said the team would not place him on injured reserve in hopes he could return by the end of the year. Smith has also stated he hopes to play this year.

In all likelihood, Smith will open training camp on the non-football injury list because the injury occurred while playing for Notre Dame, not Dallas.

Before getting hurt, Smith was considered a potential top-five pick. He had 113 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five pass deflections last season. His six quarterback hurries were tied for fourth on the team.

The Cowboys were willing to take the chance in part because their team physician, Dr. Dan Cooper, performed Smith's surgery and knows the state of Smith's knee better than anybody. The Cowboys believe in time the nerve will refire and Smith will be on the field.

Smith will focus mostly on his rehab. During the recent rookie minicamp, he spent time watching linebacker drills and also did some resistance training with associate athletic trainer Britt Brown.

When Smith does get on the field, it will be at middle linebacker. The Cowboys' starter the past two seasons, Rolando McClain, is on a one-year deal.

The remaining unsigned draft picks are third-rounder Maliek Collins, fourth-rounder Charles Tapper and fourth-rounder Dak Prescott.