Packers Make Final Decision on Preston Smith’s Future

Preston Smith Restructure

Getty Preston Smith #91 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates defeating the Los Angeles Rams 32-18 in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 16, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Smith Bros. will have at least one more encore together.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Green Bay Packers are restructuring starting outside linebacker Preston Smith’s contract for the 2021 season, creating significant salary-cap relief for themselves while ending speculation that 28-year-old veteran would become a cap casualty this offseason.

Restructuring Smith’s contract reduced his cap hit from $16 million to $8.75 million for the 2021 season, creating $7.25 million in cap space for the Packers. Green Bay still needs to clear about $1.27 million before the new league year begins on March 17 — based on figures from independent cap specialist Ken Ingalls.

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Breaking Down Smith’s Adjusted Contract

Under his original contract, Smith was set to earn $12 million and carry a cap hit of $16 million through the 2021 season. The Packers could have released him before the new league year on March 17 and created $8 million in cap space or waited and designated him as a post-June 1 cut to take as much as $12 million off of their books.

Instead, Rapoport reported Smith agreed to take reductions in base salary, workout bonus and roster bonus in exchange for a $6.5 million restructure bonus — a near-guarantee he will remain with the team in 2021 — along with $4.4 million in sack incentives for next year. He also tweeted a breakdown of the incentive markers:

Smith can still earn more yearly cash in 2021 than the $12 million he was originally due under his old contract, but only if he maxes out his incentives at 14 sacks. And if he does that for the Packers next season … well, let’s just say they’ll be happy to pay him.

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Smith Gets Another Shot in 2021

Before adjusting his contract, Smith was facing an uncertain offseason with the Packers. The 28-year-old outside linebacker had seen his production drop off noticeably in both sacks (12 to four) and total pressures (26 to 14) as former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine insisted on dropping him into coverage throughout the year. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Smith’s pass-rushing win rate also fell to 12.6%.

The Packers also have 2019 first-rounder Rashan Gary primed and ready to step into a bigger role as an every-game starter. After a quiet rookie season, Gary took a significant next step in Year 2 and tallied 6.5 sacks, 40 tackles, 14 quarterback hits and a forced fumble while playing on just 44% of the Packers’ defensive snaps. He would have been the natural candidate to take over opposite All-Pro Za’Darius Smith; though, the depth behind them would have needed reinforcing.

Now, Smith has been given another chance to rediscover the magic that had him playing at a career-best level in 2019 — when he tallied 56 total tackles, 12 sacks and 23 quarterback hits for the Packers. He will also do so with a new but familiar defensive coordinator in Joe Barry, who replaced Pettine earlier this offseason. Barry was Washington’s defensive coordinator during Smith’s rookie season in 2015.

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