The Green Bay Packers have already cleared millions in cap space this offseason, but some tough decisions on player personnel remain just around the corner.
One of those decisions involves the future of two-time Pro-Bowl pass rusher Za’Darius Smith who is entering the final year of his deal in 2022. He is owed just north of $27.5 million and moving off of Smith’s contract would go a long way toward squaring the Packers with the salary cap this offseason. Smith’s deal will still count $12.38 million toward Green Bay’s payroll in the form of a dead cap hit whether he is cut or traded, but the Packers would save $15.75 million by removing the pass rusher from their roster.
Trading a player of Smith’s caliber typically comes with a bountiful return of established talent and/or draft picks. But the primary concern in Green Bay remains keeping QB Aaron Rodgers around. Doing so will require significant investments in offensive free agents like wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Robert Tonyan, which the Packers will have to navigate while trying to slash or restructure approximately $50 million in salary before the start of next season.
Because of those realities, Green Bay may consider settling for a trade partner willing to pay Smith the nearly $16 million he is still owed next season and accept a small chip in return for the contract.
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NFL Analyst Predicts Packers Would Net Mid-Round Draft Pick in Smith Trade
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus (PFF) identified the Baltimore Ravens, the franchise that drafted Smith, as the kind of trade partner the Packers seek. He suggested the Ravens could get a deal done for Smith by offering the Packers a fourth-round draft pick in 2022.
“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.”
Smith displayed his devastating edge rushing abilities over this first two seasons in Green Bay, during which he amassed 29 sacks and pressured opposing quarterbacks 144 times. However, Smith played in just one regular season game last year due to a back injury. Spielberger also said there have been some tensions between Smith and the Packers front office that make a split more likely.
“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.”
Packers’ Contract Priorities Reside With QB Aaron Rodgers
Contextually every move the Packers make this offseason will be done with the intentions of both retaining Rodgers and keeping the roster around him as competitive as possible.
Green Bay has already reworked the contracts of running back Aaron Jones and defensive tackle Kenny Clark to clear nearly $14 million in total cap space. They will also need to rework Rodgers’ deal if he remains with the team. The quarterback is under contract for one more season and represents a cap hit of more than $46.5 million. Restructuring the deal will be necessary not only to meet cap requirements for 2022, but also to extend Rodgers presumably through the end of his career.
According to a report from ESPN’s Diana Russini on February 24, Rodgers’ contract extension would be the most expensive in the history of the NFL if the Packers can get it done.
“From the conversations I’ve had with a lot of people in the league, he wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL — by a wide margin,” Russini said told The Rich Eisen Show Thursday. “So, we’re talking about $50 million a year. And we know the cap situation the [Packers] are in, we know Davante Adams needs to get paid, so there’s a lot on the table.”
Russini reported further that Rodgers is expected to announce within the next week whether he would like to return to Green Bay or would prefer the Packers trade him.