IRVING, Texas - Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Thursday, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said the club will not put second-round pick Jaylon Smith on injured reserve when the season starts, despite a serious knee injury.
"We'll take a chance he'll be back for the playoffs," Jones said of the linebacker.
Jones made a similar point when the Cowboys drafted Smith on Friday. Smith was asked following the pick whether he had a chance of playing in 2016. "Absolutely," he said. "Never doubt God."
Smith tore the anterior and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee and also suffered nerve damage in Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. Structurally the knee is sound, cleared at the medical re-check in Indianapolis, but the nerve issue scared off teams from putting Smith on their draft boards.
The Cowboys feel confident the nerve will re-fire and Smith will be able to resume a career that had him on track to being one of the top picks in the draft, not a second rounder. Team physician, Dr. Dan Cooper, performed Smith's surgery, so the Cowboys feel confident in their decision. On Wednesday executive vice president Stephen Jones said Smith will rehab full time with the Cowboys' athletic training staff.
Most believe Smith will need a redshirt season, so to speak, to recover. Jones, however, said the nerve could re-fire at any point, which would put Smith's rehab into higher gear.
If the Cowboys choose not to place him on season-ending injured reserve when the season begins, what options remain? At the very least Smith will open training camp on the non-football injury list since the injury happened in college. The recovery from a torn ACL and LCL is generally nine months and Smith's injury happened Jan. 1.
When the Cowboys have to trim the roster to 53 players the week before the season, they could keep Smith on NFI, which would force him to miss at least the first six games and give him another six weeks to potentially practice and return to the field.
Last year's third-round pick Chaz Green opened the year on the physically unable to perform list because of hip surgery in the offseason. He was able to return for three weeks of practice but the Cowboys did not add him to the 53-man roster. Their seventh-round pick, linebacker Mark Nzeocha, opened the season on NFI because of a knee injury he suffered in college. He was activated Nov. 18 and played a special teams role in the final two games.
The NFL has gotten rid of the injured reserve rule in which a player could be designated to return. The new bylaw allows teams to choose one player to return to practice among their players already on injured reserve, provided that player has spent at least six weeks on injured reserve. That player would be able to return to the active roster and play in a game two weeks later.
Even that time frame might be too quick for Smith's return if the nerve re-fires.
Of course, the Cowboys could also just keep Smith on the 53-man roster for the season and make him inactive each week. Considering the value of every roster spot it is not the wisest move to go with a 52-man roster.