Ranking the 20 Best Free-Agent Signings in Packers History

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6. Za'Darius Smith, Outside Linebacker, 2019

Za'Darius Smith's tenure wasn't as long as Preston Smith's, but the impact he had while in Green Bay (and healthy) is arguably larger.

When the Packers signed Smith in 2019, it was a clear signal that the team was serious about upgrading its pass rush. Smith, who had shown promise with the Baltimore Ravens, inked a four-year, $66 million contract with Green Bay. This investment paid off immediately, as Smith became a dominant force on the Packers’ defense.

Smith’s impact was immediate and profound. In his first season with the Packers, he recorded 13.5 sacks, 37 quarterback hits, and 17 tackles for loss. His relentless pressure on the quarterback transformed the Packers’ defense, which had struggled to generate a consistent pass rush in previous seasons. Smith’s performance earned him Pro Bowl honors and solidified his reputation as one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL.

Smith’s ability to play multiple positions on the defensive line added a new dimension to the Packers’ defense. Whether lining up as an outside linebacker, defensive end, or even on the interior, Smith’s versatility created mismatches and confusion for opposing offenses. His leadership on and off the field was equally important, as he quickly became a vocal leader and a respected figure in the locker room.

The 2019 season culminated in an NFC Championship Game appearance for the Packers, and Smith’s contributions were a major reason for the team’s success. He continued his stellar play in 2020, recording 12.5 sacks and earning a second consecutive Pro Bowl selection. His ability to consistently generate pressure and disrupt opposing offenses made him a cornerstone of the Packers’ defense.

Smith’s time in Green Bay was not without challenges. Injuries limited his availability in 2021, and he was eventually released by the Packers in a cost-cutting move. Despite the abrupt end to his tenure, Smith’s impact on the Packers was significant and lasting.