Packers Release All-Pro, Sign Veteran to Long-Term Deal

Za'Darius Smith Release

Getty Za'Darius Smith #55 of the Green Bay Packers warms up prior to their game against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California.

The Green Bay Packers are breaking up the Smith Bros., but not before signing one of them to a long-term contract extension.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst officially released All-Pro outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith from the active roster on March 14, an expected move that is rooted in the team’s need to resolve their salary-cap deficit for the 2022 season. Smith’s release creates about $15.2 million in cap space and leaves behind roughly $12.4 million in dead cap.

According to Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, the Packers are also signing veteran pass rusher Preston Smith — who took a pay cut to return in 2021 — to a four-year, $52.5 million contract extension. Smith’s new deal will keep him with the team through the 2026 season and will give him the chance to make more than $70 million over the next five seasons, thanks to the inclusion of sack-based incentives.

Smith’s new contract will create a little more than $8 million in cap space, reducing his cap hit from roughly $19.72 million to about $11.460 million for the 2022 season.

With Preston Smith extended, the Packers now have both of their starting edge rushers locked down for at least one more season. They can make it at least two seasons if they decide to pick up Rashan Gary’s fifth-year option in 2023 before the deadline on May 3. Given Gary’s breakout season in 2021, the decision could end up being a no-brainer.

The Packers created nearly $22.5 million in cap space between their two moves with the Smiths, who are not actually related but adopted the “Smith Bros.” moniker in 2019 during their first season together in Green Bay. According to Over the Cap, Green Bay is still about $18.335 million over the salary cap for 2022 and will need to get under before the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on March 16.

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Smith’s Bounce-Back Season Pays Off

A year ago, Preston Smith’s future in Green Bay wasn’t looking so bright.

The 28-year-old outside linebacker was coming off a down year in 2020 that saw his production sag in terms of both sacks and pressures. He was also set to carry one of the team’s heftier cap hits ($16 million) into the 2021 season, putting him at significant risk of becoming a cap casualty during the offseason. Rather than accept his fate, though, Smith chose to bet on himself and agreed to take a pay cut for another year with the Packers — on the condition he could earn back his lost wages with sacks incentives.

Ultimately, Smith made off even better than originally expected. While he fell short of three of his five possible incentives and left about $3.15 million on the table in 2021, he earned back the trust of the front office with a nine-sack season and received a long-term contract extension that will continue to pay him handsomely for years to come.

According to Over The Cap‘s contract details, Smith’s new deal includes $3.8 million in per-game roster bonuses and another $2.15 million in workout bonuses over the next five seasons. He will also receive a sizable roster bonus in both 2023 ($7.5 million) and 2024 ($5.4 million) that will toll on the third day of each respective league year.

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