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Cowboys to activate Jaylon Smith, McFadden off NFI

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In a move that could be an encouraging step forward, or simply a bit of ceremony as we head into the latter part of the season, the Cowboys plan to activate second-round linebacker Jaylon Smith (knee) from the non-football injury list.

Stephen Jones, the Cowboys' executive vice president, said as much on KRLD-FM in Dallas on Monday but was cautionary in his words. Smith, who sustained serious knee damage in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State last January that caused damage to both his ACL and MCL, will not see any change in his rehab routine and is not expected to practice any time soon.

Running back Darren McFadden is also expected to come off the NFI.

The activation opens up a three-week practice window for Smith, though it is highly unlikely his surgically repaired knee is in any shape to sustain the rigors of an NFL practice or game right now. NFL.com's Gil Brandt noted this week that Jones and Smith both told him that the "nerves in Jaylon's knee are regenerating" and "signs pointing in right direction." With any luck, he could start tearing up the practice field during organized team activities in the spring.

In the meantime, this could be general manager Jerry Jones following through on a promise not to end Smith's season before it started. Back when he drafted the injured Notre Dame linebacker he said he would not place Smith on season-ending injured reserve. As late as early October, Jones said that he still held out hope that Smith would play this season. Last week, he said only that Smith was in excellent shape and wasn't ready to play against the Ravens.

While Dallas could always use more help at linebacker, it would be tough to imagine Smith coming off the sideline for a conference title game or Super Bowl. The talent is certainly there -- he was considered a top five pick before the injury occurred -- but it may be wiser to let him surprise the league in September of 2017.

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