Out of all the uncertainty surrounding the Green Bay Packers this offseason, one of the more predictable moves that many of us expected to take place was the team moving on from Za’Darius Smith—which has now officially happened.
Smith was a force during his first two seasons with the Green Bay Packers, totaling 164 pressures during that span, according to PFF ($$), including 105 in 2019. He also recorded 32 sacks and was named a second-team All-Pro in 2020.
Unfortunately, due to a back injury, we saw very little of Smith in 2021. He played just 18 snaps in Week 1 against New Orleans and then 19 snaps in the NFC Divisional round against San Francisco. Smith would log two pressures and a sack.
Although the depth of the edge rusher position was a concern all last season, the Green Bay Packers were able to absorb Smith’s absence because of the play of Rashan Gary and Preston Smith. Both of whom would finish in the top-10 among edge rushers in pressures generated and as a team, with help from Kenny Clark as well, the Packers finished top-5 in that category.
With a cap hit of $27.6 million in 2022 — the final year of his deal — Smith was never going to play out this season on that current contract. And with him nearing 30-years-old, coming off a back injury, along with the play of P. Smith and Gary, the Packers moving on from Z. Smith in favor of the $15.2 million in cap savings always seemed far more likely than a contract extension or a restructure.
Without knowing the details of Aaron Rodgers’ extension, we don’t know exactly where the Packers’ cap situation sits, but this move coupled with that extension, plus the extension for Preston Smith, will put Green Bay much closer to getting out of their deficit—even with Davante Adams’ being franchise tagged.
Smith will now be one of the more coveted edge rusher free agents on the market, and on the to-do list this offseason for the Green Bay Packers will be adding to the depth of that position. As I mentioned, there was a real lack of impact plays when Gary and P. Smith were on the sidelines.
Adding to the edge rusher room should be a top priority for the Green Bay Packers this offseason.
The Packers could explore free agency to fill this need. So far, they’ve reportedly been interested in Von Miller and Uchenna Nwosu—but both are likely going to end up outside of Green Bay’s price range. We also do not know what level of spending power the Packers will have, but chances are it will be limited.
The more likely route to filling this need is through the draft, which is quite deep at the edge rusher position. With Gary and P. Smith to lean on, the Packers could take a similar role as they did with Gary, where the rookie doesn’t have to be “the guy” right away as he continues to develop, but he can still play a key rotational role on this defense as well. This route is also going to be the more cost-effective option for the cap-strapped Packers.