Preston Smith has been viewed as one of the most likely cut candidates on the Green Bay Packers‘ roster this offseason, but could the Packers instead trade away the veteran pass rusher and gain back some useful draft capital?
According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, Smith’s name has come up in trade discussions over the past week as NFL teams continue adjusting their rosters and cutting salary-cap costs in preparation for the start of the new league year on March 17. The Packers can save as much as $12 million cutting Smith from their roster this offseason, but finding a trade partner to take on his contract could net them an additional asset (draft pick or player) along with the same amount of cap savings.
Here’s what Breer wrote about Smith and his trade potential:
Packers DE Preston Smith: Green Bay still really likes Smith, but his production in 2020 (four sacks) wasn’t what it was in 2019 (12 sacks), and the Packers have a former first-round pick, Rashan Gary, waiting in the wings behind him. That makes this an easy place for Green Bay to save $12 million. And the 28-year-old Smith could be a short-term fix for a team that doesn’t want to pay for Carl Lawson or Yannick Ngakoue on the open market.
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Timing Means Everything With Smith
Exploring trade possibilities with Smith makes sense for the Packers given their current cap situation. According to Over the Cap, the Packers still need to clear about $11.5 million in cap space (based on the salary-cap floor of $180.5 million in 2021) before next Wednesday and will need to free up considerably more to make other necessary moves this offseason, including signing free agents and this year’s draft picks.
The trouble with a potential Smith trade is the Packers could not use the maneuver to get under the cap before March 17 even if they found a team willing to take on the remaining two years of his contract. There are other moves they could make to get cap compliant and leave the door open on mobilizing Smith, but they would have to act fast with his $4 million roster bonus set to toll on the third day of the new league year (Friday, March 19).
If the Packers don’t trade Smith, there are two other routes to cap savings that would involve him spending the 2021 season elsewhere. The Packers can create $8 million in cap space if they move on from Smith before June 1, leaving behind $8 million in dead cap for next season. They could also designate him as a post-June 1 cut to up their overall savings to $12 million for 2021.
Could Smith Remain in Green Bay for 2021?
A divorce between Smith and the Packers might seem inevitable given the money that can be saved, but there are still ways Smith could return to Green Bay for 2021.
Technically, the Packers could devote their cap-saving energy to other parts of their roster and completely ignore Smith’s situation for 2021, keeping their outside linebacker room well-stocked with him, All-Pro Za’Darius Smith and former first-rounder Rashan Gary. That route seems unlikely, though, given $12 million is quite a bit of money to pay someone who could be the third man in their rotation and who declined in 2020.
The Packers could also persuade him to take a pay cut to stick around for another year, similar to what they did last offseason with veteran guard Lane Taylor as he was coming off a season-ending injury. Smith, however, would have little reason to agree to something like that as someone who played every game last season and tallied four sacks, 42 tackles and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Lastly, the Packers could restructure his current deal in efforts to reduce his cap hit for next season. The problem with trying to spread out his cost over multiple years is that they only have one more beyond 2021 with which to work, meaning any cap relief created this year would just get kicked down the road to next year unless additional years were added onto Smith’s deal — which on its own would be a gamble.