The Green Bay Packers have made certain their offense will remain one of the most dangerous in the NFL next season, but the money spent to ensure that will cost the team elsewhere on the roster.
The Packers’ successful effort to recruit QB Aaron Rodgers back to Green Bay and its subsequent franchise tagging of wide receiver Davante Adams mean that, in all likelihood, linebacker Za’Darius Smith’s days with the team are numbered. The two-time Pro-Bowl pass rusher already believes that much is the case, according to a Wednesday, March 9 report from ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.
“A source said outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith believes he will be released. Smith, who played only 18 snaps last regular season, has the second-largest cap number on the team ($28.1 million), and the Packers would gain $15.75 million in cap space by cutting him,” Demovsky wrote.
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Smith’s Exit From Packers Rumored, Foreshadowed For Months
Smith has seemingly long been of the opinion that his time in Green Bay is nearing its end.
He made a cryptic Instagram post following the team’s playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January, which was widely interpreted as a farewell to Packers fans. The post included five pictures of Smith donning the green and gold. The caption read only, “Thank you Green Bay 🙏🏾.” It was later deleted from social media.
Smith was a crucial contributor to the Packers’ success during his first two years with the team, registering 26 sacks and 60 total quarterback hits on his way to two Pro Bowl appearances. Green Bay also played in the NFC Championship Game at the end of both of those seasons.
But Smith’s back injury along with his cap hit and Green Bay’s desire to bring back other stars on defense render him the most sensible piece with whom to part. Demovsky named linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas as free agents the Packers hope to sign to long-term deals, adding that their annual contract values are projected at $10 million and $5 million, respectively.
Packers Could Trade Smith to Ravens Rather Than Releasing Him
Still just 29 years old and with only one injury-plagued season marring an otherwise impressive seven-year NFL resumé, Smith undoubtedly carries trade value.
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus noted that the Baltimore Ravens would be a top candidate to deal for Smith this offseason, which could bring the Packers back a fourth-round draft pick rather than releasing the pass rusher for nothing. Baltimore drafted Smith in 2015, where he spent four seasons before joining the Packers.
“The Ravens are projected to have five fourth-round picks, including multiple compensatory picks, and they’ve done a good job of flipping Day 3 selections for proven starters the past few years,” Spielberger wrote. “Smith slots right in as a pass rusher who can win from anywhere along the defensive line.”
The problem is that Smith is signed through 2022 at a heavy number, and any team interested in trading for him will be forced to take on more than $15 million in base salary with no guarantee he would re-sign the following year.
“Smith was reportedly unhappy with how his contract was handled prior to the season, and it’s possible he would rather be outright released so he can choose his next team,” Spielberger continued. “However, the thinking here is he would be excited to return to the team that drafted him, and perhaps contract particulars can get sorted out at a later date.”