FRISCO, Texas — On April 29, 2016, Jaylon Smith was at a bowling alley in Indiana when he took a phone call from Jerry Jones.
“It’s great to be talking to a Dallas Cowboy,” the team owner and general manager said moments after drafting the linebacker with the No. 34 overall pick in the second round.
On Tuesday, three years later, Jones hurriedly flew back from NFL collective bargaining talks in Chicago to be by Smith’s side in announcing a five-year extension that is worth $64 million and includes $35.5 million guaranteed.
3 and a half years ago on Jan 1st, 2016,
Tears in my eyes,
My life changed forever.
I embraced each moment.
I had a focused vision, determined belief and now I have earned one of my dreams! #ClearEyeView | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/xqNDGFNSFS
— Jaylon Smith (@thejaylonsmith) August 20, 2019
When the Cowboys drafted Smith, they did not know if he would be able to play because of two torn ligaments and nerve damage in his left knee. More than a year into his time with the team, he could not lift his foot on his own.
The Cowboys’ draft-night gamble was an all-important backdrop to Tuesday’s announcement.
“Going into the draft night back in 2016, not knowing if I would be drafted at all, not knowing if I would ever play the game of football again, a lot of people didn’t know,” Smith said. “But I knew. And the Cowboys knew.”
Dr. Daniel Cooper, the Cowboys team physician, performed Smith’s surgery and gave positive reviews. Director of rehabilitation Britt Brown, who helped Dan Marino recover from a torn Achilles tendon many years ago, worked endlessly with Smith.
Smith has played in every game over the past two seasons. He started every contest last season, finishing with 150 tackles, according to the Cowboys coaches’ count. He filled every major statistical category except an interception. There were only two NFL players last season who registered 120 tackles, at least four sacks and multiple forced fumbles: Smith and Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, who was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Smith said the emotions he felt in signing the extension were similar to that of draft night in 2016.
“Understanding what I’ve been through and a lot has transpired since the injury. I couldn’t lift my foot for a year and two months, and that entire time these guys didn’t have to pay me full salary my first year,” Smith said. “They were able to show their true belief in me. I was in every meeting. Every home game. Stayed after while they were practicing I was with [Brown], who’s like my second father, getting right and rehabbing the knee. The thing about nerves regenerating — the doctors say it’s supposed to grow a millimeter a day. But really, it’s on God’s time. It comes back when He wants it to. So all of us knowing that, it was just a matter of time.”
As Jones spoke about Smith on Tuesday, his chin quivered with emotion. He knows the work Smith put in just simply to play. At the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony in Canton, Ohio, earlier this month, Jones spoke with Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
“What I said was, ‘You know about him [Smith]. You know what he can do on the field. You know what he can do there, but what I will tell you is that there’s internal brightness,'” Jones said. “He glows. I said, ‘You’ve got that, Ray, and it lifts your team. Michael Irvin has it. He’s got it.”
The Cowboys knew Smith wouldn’t play as a rookie, but they were willing to take the chance. Without the knee injury, Smith would have been a top-five player on their draft board.
Dallas executive vice president Stephen Jones said “everything has played out to plan.”
“It will go down as one of the great picks that this organization has ever made,” he added.
The injury will always be part of Smith’s story.
“If I could go back, I would do it all over,” Smith said. “I mean, it’s just a true testament to my clear-eye view, which I’ve always talked about having. A focused vision, determined belief, earned dreams. I mean it really fuels my fire. My injury was televised publicly throughout the country. Everyone knew about it … God was able to work through me and for people to really be able to see that you can persevere.”
The lasting effects of the injury played a part in Smith signing the extension now, when he was under contract for two more years.
“Understanding business and that cash is king,” Smith said.
But he also yearned to be a Cowboy for life.
“I wanted to be part of the most prestigious brand in the world. I recognized that,” Smith said. “And I’m a team guy, as well. I’m a leader. Eventually, I’m going to be a captain for the Dallas Cowboys. I know it and I feel it and really be able to exemplify greatness on and off the field.
“And in order to win, you need guys, and I view myself as one of those guys.”
Artist says Antonio Brown sent ‘intimidating’ texts
The lawyer for a woman who earlier this week alleged sexual misconduct by Antonio Brown reached out to the NFL on Thursday night after the wide receiver apparently sent what were described as threatening text messages to her client, Sports Illustrated reports.
Attorney Lisa J. Banks wrote the NFL, asking the league to stop alleged conduct by Brown that she deemed as “intimidating and threatening to our client, in violation of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy,” according to the report. The NFL responded quickly, setting up a phone call between league investigators and the woman’s attorneys.
The woman told SI that, on Wednesday night, she received a group text message that appeared to come from the same phone number Brown gave to her in 2017, when she was hired by the wide receiver to paint a mural in his suburban Pittsburgh home. The text chain had four other numbers on it, SI reported.
The woman said she believes Brown was encouraging others in the group to investigate her, describing her as a “super broke girl” and asking someone he refers to as “Eric B” to “look up her background history.” He then sent a screenshot of an Instagram photo she had posted showing the faces of her young children, adding “those her kids … she’s awful broke clearly.”
The texter accused the woman of fabricating her account of a 2017 incident for cash.
The text messages, sent while Brown was a member of New England Patriots, were viewed by some in the organization to have crossed the line, a source told ESPN on Friday, shortly after the Patriots released the embattled wide receiver less than two weeks after signing him.
“The NFL and the Patriots clearly took our client’s concerns seriously,” Banks and law firm partner Debra Katz said in a statement Friday. “She wanted the threats and intimidation to stop and we hope that will be the case. The NFL has assured us that regardless of Antonio Brown’s roster status, it will continue to investigate all claims regarding his behavior.We are gratified that the NFL recognized that it has an important role to play in policing player conduct that is sexually harassing and threatening.”
The woman’s allegations were first included within a Sports Illustrated story published Monday that detailed multiple domestic incidents involving Brown.
According to SI’s initial report, Brown had hosted a charity softball game in Pittsburgh to benefit the National Youth Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based volunteer group of women that promotes inclusion and gender equality, as well as developing academic skills in kids. The event had an auction that included artwork, and Brown agreed to purchase a portrait of himself before befriending the artist who created it.
Brown invited the artist to come to his home to create another painting of him, according to the report, arranging for transportation from New York to western Pennsylvania. The artist told SI she was thrilled by Brown’s willingness to share her work on social media, but on her second day in Pennsylvania, things changed.
According to the report, which did not include the artist’s name, she “was in a kneeling position while painting and turned to find Brown behind her, naked, holding a small hand towel over his genitals.” The artist said she didn’t stop painting and that “after that, it all ended abruptly.”
Brown paid her $2,000 for the mural, according to SI, and didn’t contact the artist thereafter.
The artist is not pursuing charges or remuneration, according to SI.
After SI published its story Monday, Brown’s attorney, Darren Heitner, tweeted that his client denied he ever acted inappropriately.
Heitner told SI he had not advised Brown to communicate with the woman but otherwise declined comment when reached Thursday.
Messages sent by SI to Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, were not immediately returned Thursday, according to the report.
The woman’s allegations are separate from those of Britney Taylor, Brown’s former trainer who filed a civil suit in Florida earlier this month. In the lawsuit, she alleges that Brown sexually assaulted her in three separate incidents, two in June 2017 and another in May 2018.
NFL investigators met with Taylor on Monday, and a source previously told ESPN that there are “more interviews and information gathering being conducted now beyond Taylor.” It remains unclear when or if Brown will interview with the league.
Brown, who was signed by the Patriots on Sept. 9 — before Taylor’s lawsuit was filed — and made his season debut Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since the allegations came out. During the brief media session, Brown was not directly asked a question about his reaction to Taylor’s lawsuit and deflected a question on whether he has heard from the NFL about being able to play throughout the 2019 season.
What now for Antonio Brown? Answering the biggest questions around his release
Antonio Brown has been released by his second NFL team in less than two weeks. The New England Patriots announced Friday that they were parting ways with the star wide receiver, whom they signed when he was released by the Oakland Raiders just before Week 1.
Brown has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by two different women in the time since the Patriots signed him, and once new allegations of his behavior toward one of those women surfaced overnight Thursday, the Patriots decided they’d had enough.
It has been a bizarre saga for Brown since he forced his way out of Pittsburgh via trade during the offseason. His time with the Raiders was marked by controversy over his preferred choice of helmet, the accidental freezing of his feet in a cryotherapy chamber and a public feud with team management over fines for missing work. The Patriots agreed to terms with him hours after his release from Oakland on Sept. 7, but it wasn’t long before far more serious controversies began to surface.
Brown is under NFL investigation and without a job. Here’s a look at some of the key facts of the situation as it stands:
Why did the Patriots cut him now?
The Patriots claim that they did not know, when they signed Brown on Sept. 9, that his former trainer Britney Taylor was planning to file a lawsuit against him alleging sexual assault. She did that three days later, but New England kept him on the team last week, and he played in their victory over the Miami Dolphins.
This week, a Sports Illustrated story was published that included a fresh allegation of sexual misconduct against Brown by a different woman. That woman told Sports Illustrated on Thursday that Brown had sent her intimidating and threatening texts after the story ran, and her attorneys said Thursday they were sharing those texts and that information with league investigators. The Patriots woke up to that news Friday morning and, according to sources, held a series of meetings to determine the best course of action in light of the most recent development and all of the issues that were piling up around Brown.
Coach Bill Belichick, who has control over the composition of the team’s roster, walked out of his regular Friday news conference because he didn’t want to answer questions about Brown and the reporters who cover the team understandably kept asking them anyway. Several hours later, the Patriots released a short statement that read, “The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown. We appreciate the hard work of many people over the last 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time.”
Will the NFL take action against him, too?
The NFL’s investigation into Brown’s off-field conduct began Monday when league investigators interviewed Taylor, who filed the lawsuit last week accusing Brown of sexual assault. That investigation, a league source said Friday after Brown’s release, “will continue.” The league has been interviewing other witnesses besides Taylor this week and has been gathering information on all of the accusations against Brown. At this time, the league is not scheduled to interview Brown. Usually, the interview with the player happens at the end of the investigation, after the league has compiled all of its evidence against him.
Often, the NFL will place a player who is under investigation on the commissioner’s exempt list, which keeps him off the field but still allows him to be paid while the investigation is completed. But a league source said Friday that a player must be signed to a team in order to be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, which means Brown will not be placed on that list unless another team signs him.
Will he end up being suspended?
In order to know that, we’d have to know more about the league’s findings so far and what they’ll find as they continue their investigation.
Could he serve the suspension while not signed by a team?
Yes, if Brown were to be suspended, he could technically serve the suspension while he was a free agent.
Let’s say, for example, the league decided to suspend him eight games (literally just speculation here, just picking a figure out of the air), and the decision came down today (which it won’t). He’d be suspended for the next eight weeks, meaning he’d be eligible to play in Week 11, even if he didn’t sign with another team until a month from now.
Mike Reiss reports that the decision to release Antonio Brown was a decision that Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft made together.
Could another team sign him? And will one?
Brown is a free agent and can sign with any team. There’s no way to predict or account for the actions of all 32 teams. Realistically, though, any team that signs Brown would almost certainly want to wait until the investigation into him is completed and it knows what discipline, if any, he would be facing.
We can’t rule it out, but it would be very surprising if a team signed him while the NFL’s investigation was still ongoing.
How much money did this whole thing cost the Patriots?
That’s going to be a matter for arbitrators and courts. The one-year contract Brown signed with the Patriots on Sept. 9 included a $9 million signing bonus and $1 million in fully guaranteed 2019 salary. If a player is on the roster at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, he gets paid for that week, so the Patriots technically would have paid him two game checks worth $62,500 (one-sixteenth of $1 million) each. So he earned $125,000 in salary — plus a $33,333 per-game roster bonus for the one game he played — for his time there. Now, the salary was guaranteed, but the Patriots can easily argue that the circumstances that led to his release voided those guarantees and that they don’t have to pay them.
The signing bonus is trickier, since NFL contract language that voids guaranteed salary doesn’t automatically find a player in default of his signing bonus. Technically, the Patriots haven’t paid any of it yet. The first $5 million was due this coming Monday, Sept. 23, and the remaining $4 million was deferred until Jan. 15, 2020.
New England likely won’t want to pay any of that signing bonus, and a league source said the team’s way out of it is a representation warranty clause that says it’s a breach of contract if Brown didn’t disclose an existing situation that would have prevented his continued availability (i.e., if he knew about Taylor’s pending lawsuit and didn’t tell the team before he signed with them). Another source said the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) considers a signing bonus “money earned,” regardless of the payment schedule, so any attempt by the Patriots to avoid paying the signing bonus money likely would result in a grievance by Brown and the union.
Part of the NFLPA’s job is to push back on teams’ attempts to get out of contracts, so any team action that would potentially set a precedent of not paying signing bonus money would likely result in a fight between the union and the league and/or team. The Raiders, as a general rule, don’t include signing bonus money in their deals, and Brown’s was not the exception. So the their attempts to void guaranteed salary and recoup the money they spent on him would be less likely to incur a grievance than would the Patriots’ effort to escape signing bonus payments.
Ryan Clark says he isn’t surprised by Antonio Brown’s release from the Patriots as they aim to maintain chemistry within the locker room.
And how about in salary-cap charges?
Since Brown was released after June 1, the Patriots can split the charge for the signing bonus over the next two years. Add in the $1 million salary for this year, and New England’s cap charges for Brown would be $5.75 million in 2019 and $4.75 million in 2020. If the team was able to successfully fight to get all of the salary and bonus money back, it would get back this year’s $5.75 million as a salary-cap credit in 2020, and the $4.75 million charge for next year would be wiped away.
But let’s step back for a second and realize that there are currently three NFL teams carrying dead-money salary cap charges for Brown in 2019: The Pittsburgh Steelers, who traded him to the Raiders in the spring, are carrying a $21.12 million dead-money charge on their cap for Brown, and the Raiders are carrying a $1,193,627 dead-money charge this year and another $666,667 next year.
Brown was on Oakland’s roster as of 4 p.m. ET the Tuesday before the Raiders’ Week 1 game, so they’re technically on the hook for $860,294 in salary (one-seventeenth of the $14.625 million they were scheduled to pay him in 2019). The rest of the dead money in Oakland is the result of workout bonuses treated as signing bonus for cap purposes. Like the Patriots, the Raiders can (and will) fight to get their money back, and if they do they’ll get cap credits for it in 2020.
Is Brown entitled to termination pay?
He could be. NFL rules allow a player, once in his career, to file for and collect termination pay if he’s released by a team. If the player is on that team’s roster Week 1, he’s entitled to 100 percent of his base salary in termination pay. If he’s not on the roster Week 1, he’s entitled to 25 percent of his base salary in termination pay.
Brown was not, technically, on any team’s Week 1 roster, since he was released by the Raiders before 4 p.m. ET on the day before the season’s first Sunday and not officially signed by the Patriots until two days later. He would technically be entitled to $250,000 (25 percent of $1 million) in termination pay if he wanted to pursue that. But as with the guaranteed salary, it’s all up in the air because of extenuating off-field circumstances that could affect Brown’s right to any of his money at all.
Rams without TE Higbee; Donald questionable
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams on Friday officially ruled out tight end Tyler Higbee and listed defensive tackle Aaron Donald and right guard Austin Blythe as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Higbee suffered a lung contusion on Sunday in a win over the New Orleans Saints. The fourth-year pro, who has six catches for 41 yards and a touchdown, did not practice throughout the week.
Donald has been dealing with a back strain suffered in the second quarter against the Saints, but the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year said Friday that he was “100 percent” and would play against the Browns.
“I feel good,” Donald said.
When asked how he suffered the strain, Donald responded: “I’m just so fast, I was moving so fast and I strained it. That’s what happened, honestly.”
Donald was limited in practice throughout the week and was listed as questionable for Sunday’s road game out of caution, Rams coach Sean McVay said.
“Unless something really unforeseen happens, this guy is going on Sunday night,” McVay said.
A Pittsburgh native, Donald is expecting several family members to make the two-hour drive to attend the game.
“I got to show up and show out,” Donald said.
Blythe, a second-year starter, sprained his left ankle on Sunday.
“With these ankle injuries, it’s one of those deals we’re going to use all the time that we do have,” McVay said. “See if we can get some of that swelling out and if he feels good enough, then we’ll make a decision on that.”
If Blythe is unable to play, the Rams will have three first-year starters on the interior of their line with Jamil Demby expected to start in Blythe’s absence.
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