If the Cowboys don't take the field in 2020, it won't be anything new for the team's newest signing. Aldon Smith hasn't played in an NFL game since 2015, despite being one of the best pure pass rushers to enter the league in decades. The Cowboys, as they have for so many others during the Jerry Jones era, are giving Smith his last, best shot at an NFL career. If history is any guide, there's little chance that things are going to end well.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Smith seventh overall in 2011. For two seasons, he was one of the best edge rushers in the league, racking up 33.5 sacks in his first 32 games played. On Jan. 28, 2012, Miami Beach police officers arrested Smith for driving under the influence, beginning a cascade of legal problems for everything from getting into a fight with a Transportation Security Administration agent to illegally possessing an assault weapon to domestic violence.
Smith played portions of the 2013, ’14 and ’15 seasons for the 49ers and the Raiders before being hit with a suspension stemming from an August 2015 hit-and-run accident. In the years since, Smith continued to rack up arrests and has never won NFL reinstatement.
In March, reports surfaced that Smith was going through the reinstatement process. The Cowboys signed him to a one-year contract on April 2.
Thus, the saga of Aldon Smith and the Cowboys began. Let's take a look at how some of the team's similar efforts have finished. (In case you're curious, Randy Gregory isn't on this list because he was drafted by the Cowboys. These are all players Jones tried to put back together after they'd been cast off by other teams.)
1. Greg Hardy — It's hard to look at the Smith signing and not remember Greg Hardy. Hardy, like Smith, was coming off a long layoff due to legal issues. Hardy, like Smith, was a freakishly athletic pass rusher who'd excelled from the moment he left the SEC for the NFL. Hardy, like Smith, was a signing the Cowboys probably shouldn't have made.
The NFL suspended Hardy for 10 games before he even stepped onto the field for the 2015 Cowboys. Commissioner Roger Goodell eventually reduced the suspension to four games, but Hardy didn't come anywhere close to earning the millions the Cowboys paid him.
He racked up six sacks in 12 games and was a consistent problem on the sideline and in the locker room. Hardy's now in the midst of trying to start an MMA career.
2. Tank Johnson — The Bears waived Johnson in 2007 following multiple weapons charges being filed over a two-year period against the defensive tackle. Jones happily provided Johnson a landing spot, but Johnson didn't return the favor in a lackluster season and a half in Dallas. Johnson recorded just three sacks in 24 games played before leaving the Cowboys after the 2008 season.
3. Pacman Jones — Johnson wasn't the only 2008 Cowboy with legal issues. Cornerback Pacman Jones missed the entire 2007 season after a shooting he allegedly helped instigate at a strip club in Las Vegas. The former West Virginia Mountaineer reportedly slammed the head of one of the club's dancers into the stage after she began to bag up thousands of $1 bills Jones and his entourage had thrown on the dancer and her fellow performers. Club security broke up the fight, but a member of Jones' crew allegedly returned and opened fire on the crowd, wounding one guard.
To that point, Jones had played his entire career with the Tennessee Titans. When he came back, it was as a member of the Cowboys.
The Cowboys released Jones in February 2009, after they learned of his involvement in instigating another shooting, this time at a strip club in Atlanta.
4. Dimitrius Underwood — The curious case of Dimitrius Underwood is more sad than anything. After being drafted 29th overall by the Vikings in the 1999 NFL draft, Underwood struggled repeatedly with mental health issues and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He never played a game for the Vikings or his second NFL organization, the Dolphins.
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The Cowboys signed Underwood ahead of the 2000 season, and he had moderate success that year, getting into 15 games and recording four sacks. The Cowboys would eventually release Underwood after he attempted to kill himself by running into freeway traffic.
5. Rolando McClain — Rolando McClain was just 24 when the Cowboys signed him to a one-year contract in 2014, but he'd already totally washed out with one team, the Oakland Raiders, and retired from a second, the Baltimore Ravens. For one season in Dallas, everything was great, as McClain helped lead the improved defense of a Cowboys team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Before the 2015 season could get underway, however, the NFL suspended McClain for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Things were never really the same. In 2016, the league suspended McClain again for violating the substance-abuse policy, and McClain never made it back. He's currently on the NFL's indefinite suspension list.