Packers Either Have to Extend Za’Darius Smith or 2021 is his Final Year

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 16: Za'Darius Smith #55 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams during the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 16, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 16: Za'Darius Smith #55 of the Green Bay Packers reacts in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams during the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 16, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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On paper, All-Pro edge rusher Za’Darius Smith may have two years left on his deal with the Green Bay Packers, but in reality, it is only one–leaving Green Bay with another big decision to make.

Smith entered the 2021 offseason heading into Year 3 of a four-year deal with a cap hit of $22 million. However, given that the Packers found themselves in a cap crunch like many other teams around the NFL due to the shrunken salary cap, like several other players on this team, Green Bay needed to rework Smith’s deal.

Considering that Smith was coming off a 2019 season in which he tallied 105 pressures and 18 sacks, according to PFF ($$), and then followed that up with a 59 pressure 14 sack performance this past season, he seemed like a perfect extension candidate. This would have kept Smith in Green Bay beyond 2022 and also freed up some much-needed cap space in 2021.

But that isn’t what happened. Instead, just as the Green Bay Packers did with Adrian Amos, Billy Turner, and others, they restructured Smith’s deal, pushing cap charges into future years and adding voided years — or essentially fake years as a workaround — to the contract. While, yes, this created over $7 million in cap space this season, it also resulted in Smith’s 2022 cap hit sky-rocketing to $28.13 million.

To put it simply, there is no way that Smith is playing on this contract next season as it’s currently constructed. This basically leaves the Green Bay Packers with two options: either give him an extension, which will lower his 2022 cap hit, or cut him after this season, saving $15.75 million in cap space.

According to Over the Cap, Green Bay is projected to already be $34.57 million over the 2022 salary cap. As difficult as this offseason was from a financial standpoint, it appears that next year is going to be quite similar, if not worse.

With the moves made this offseason, 2021 is shaping up to be one last ride for this current Green Bay Packers team that hopefully results in another Super Bowl push. And then from there, we will likely see some big changes, one of which could include moving on from Smith.

Maybe the Packers have no intention of moving on from Smith and are working on an extension at this moment–these deals do take time after all, and there were reports earlier this offseason that the two were in extension talks, but obviously they were unable to agree to terms.

Or perhaps Green Bay wants to see how the 2021 season plays out for Smith before making any decisions–it’s worth noting that he will be 30-years-old at the start of the 2022 season. As is often the case, there are a number of ways that this could be playing out.

Take it as you will, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk recently reported that Smith was “unhappy” with his current deal. In terms of Smith’s future with the team, I’m not reading too much into this; we know that Smith wants an extension and more money — which he has earned — and he likely won’t be content with his current contract until those two things happen.

If Smith truly is “unhappy,” it doesn’t mean that the two sides can’t come to an agreement if that’s what they both want–there is still a long ways to go between now and next offseason when these final decisions have to be made.

With the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ status coupled with the breakdown in extension talks with Davante Adams, I imagine this isn’t something that Green Bay Packers fans want to think about either–but it is reality. With how Smith’s current deal is constructed, he is either going to be cut, traded, or receive an extension before the 2022 season.

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Add this to the growing list of difficult decisions that Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball will have to make over the next 10 months.