Aldon Smith is back in the NFL. The veteran pass rusher had been suspended indefinitely due to issues stemming from his struggles with alcoholism, but sources tell CBS Sports league commissioner Roger Goodell has conditionally reinstated Smith for the 2020 season, clearing his path for what might be a redemptive year in a Dallas Cowboys uniform. The club signed the former All-Pro to a one-year deal that includes a base salary of $2 million along with another $2 million in performance escalators, taking the added measure of staggering payouts to motivate the 30-year-old to continue walking the path he’s currently on. It’s a low-risk, potentially (very) high reward agreement for the Cowboys, and Smith is now champing at the bit to prove he’s defeated his demons.
At one point, Smith’s addiction put him into a tailspin that led to sleeping under a car in his own garage, but that’s not how he wants to be remembered — nor as yet another NFL player with generational talent that went to waste. Now carrying a chiseled 290-pound frame, and with the endorsement of Mike McCarthy, Jerry Jones and a reunion with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, Smith told TMZ Sports about why he feels things are different this time around.
“I’m an overall better person [than I was back then],” Smith said.
Goodell clearly agrees, and wants Smith to become a testimonial for the NFL, as it works to turn the corner on its understanding of and handling of mental illness and addiction. He now gets to chance to become that on the most-viewed stage in all of football, and for those who wonder if he can return from a multi-year absence — having not played since 2015 — and return to his dominant ways, Smith said have no fear.
He’s rested, focused and has a rabid appetite for quarterbacks.
“God has blessed me with talent,” he said. “And, one of the talents is my natural gift to play ball, to be an athlete. I still feel young. I don’t have the mileage on my body.
“I still feel great when I go to the gym. I still feel young and fresh. So, if anything, I’m looking forward to what I’m going to be able to do out there. I got 20 sacks — 19.5 (technically), I say 20 because it was 20. But, I was able to play at a high level with a lot of other things going on in my life.
“With how life is for me now, I’m just looking forward to seeing what I can do.”
Smith racked up 44 sacks in only 30 starts under Tomsula in San Francisco, mushrooming into one of the best pass rushers in the entire NFL before his off-the-field issues caught up with him. That’s the version he expects to see return to the field in 2020 and, if it does, the Cowboys’ pass rush won’t miss a beat after also helping to rebuild Robert Quinn’s brand only one season prior, although under different circumstances.
“My goal is to pick up where I left off,” Smith said. “That just means I always work hard. I always play hard. I want the same thing out of my teammates and I’m sure those guys in the locker room feel the same way, and with that mentality, the sky is the limit. I think as long as we do what we need to do and everybody plays to their potential, anything’s possible.”