The Green Bay Packers have struck gold with free agents under general manager Brian Gutekunst, and while some of those stars have ultimately gone off to new teams, one star from the past few seasons is heading to a new team for the second time in two years.
A year after joining the rival Minnesota Vikings, former Packers pass rusher Za’Darius Smith will be playing for a new team in 2023. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported on Friday, May 12 that Smith had been traded to the Cleveland Browns in a deal involving multiple draft picks going both ways.
Back in 2019, the Packers made several high-profile signings in free agency, including a pair of pass rushers in Za’Darius and Preston Smith. The former became a star in Green Bay after signing a four-year, $66 million deal, going to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2019 and 2020 with 26 sacks in 32 games.
Unfortunately, a disgruntled Smith missed almost the entirety of the 2021 season with a back injury, then requested to be released from Minnesota despite a Pro Bowl season with 10 sacks in 2022. Now, the 30-year-old will be looking to have a similar impact with his fourth NFL team by helping the Browns play for a division title in a competitive AFC North.
How The Packers Replaced Za’Darius Smith
While Smith’s departure seemed like a significant loss at the time, the Packers have found a way to replace his impact as a pass rusher over the last couple of seasons.
Prior to his torn ACL against the Lions back in November, Rashan Gary had embraced the role as the team’s premier pass rusher. After 9.5 sacks in 2021, the former first-round pick was on pace to shatter that mark with 6.0 sacks in just 9 games this past season.
Meanwhile, the Packers have made an effort to continue drafting outside linebackers. Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare showed serious flashes with 3.0 sacks as a rookie, while the team tripled up at the position with Lukas Van Ness, Colby Wooden, and Karl Brooks in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Van Ness is expected to take on a major role as the team’s first-round pick this year. While he wasn’t officially a starter for the Iowa Hawkeyes in college, he still produced 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in two seasons with the team.
Even with Smith gone, the Packers are hoping to have significant depth on the edge for the first time in years once Gary has fully recovered from his ACL injury.
Latest Packers News
With the draft out of the way, the Packers have been busy tweaking their roster in the months leading up to training camp.
The Packers added yet another safety, signing former Houston Texans starter Jonathan Owens. His wife, Simone Biles, announced the move over social media, and the young couple appear excited to start their journey together in Green Bay.
Meanwhile, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari continues to have a strange offseason. Weeks after an interview where he said the Packers were rebuilding and that he was nearing retirement, Bakhtiari took to Twitter to hammer the team’s VP of Communications over their bland schedule release video.
This could be Bakhtiari’s final season in Green Bay, but with the way things are going off the field, the All-Pro could already be trying to find his way out before the 2023 season begins.