Preston Smith

Packers Re-Sign Preston Smith

At least one of the Packers’ pass-rushing tandem of Smiths will be staying in Green Bay. Preston Smith has signed a four-year, $52.5MM extension (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport). The deal keeps him under contract for five years total, and he will earn $14MM in 2021. USA Today’s Josina Anderson adds that the contract could reach a maximum of $75MM and there are annual bonuses tied to sack totals (Twitter link). 

[RELATED: Packers Won’t Keep Za’Darius Smith At Current Price]

Smith, 29, was thought to be in line for a new contract as the Packers try to keep as much of their improved defense intact while retaining Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. At an annual average of $13.125MM, this deal is also far more manageable than what Za’Darius Smith was scheduled to make. Between the new contract and shifting $3MM of his 2022 salary into a roster bonus, the Packers will lower his cap hit by $7.25MM for this season.

The former second rounder enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in 2021, totalling nine sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. That was a welcome sign for the Packers after he registered just four sacks the year prior. Alongside Rashan Gary, and in the absence of the other Smith for most of the year, Preston was an integral part of Green Bay’s front seven.

Even with the reduced cap number, the Packers still have plenty of work to do in order to become cap compliant. The team is currently in line to be more than $30MM over the ceiling, though much of that total will come down if they release Za’Darius Smith. Doing so is now more of a viable option, with Preston in the fold for the long term.

Packers Nearing New Deal With Preston Smith?

The Packers have plenty of work to do as they try to get under the salary cap for the 2022 season. One step they can take towards compliance – not to mention keep a key piece to their defense in Green Bay – is giving edge rusher Preston Smith a new contract. 

According to Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline, that could be exactly what happens in the near future. He reports that “things seem to be moving quickly and smoothly” with respect to a new deal. Smith, 29, has one year remaining on his current pact. In part as a result of a 2021 restructure, however, both his salary and cap number are set to spike significantly. He is currently slated to count for just under $20MM against the cap next season.

For that reason, Pauline predicts that any new pact would include “more upfront money” this season as a means of spreading that cap hit over future years. Arriving at a value for said contract could be difficult for the Packers, however. Putting aside their current complicated financial situation, Smith’s 2021 season fell in between his best and worst in Green Bay in terms of production. In 16 games, he totalled 38 tackles, nine sacks and two forced fumbles – better than the previous campaign, but short of his career year in 2019.

Of course, money could be easier to come by for the Packers if they hold true to previous reports that fellow edge rusher Za’Darius Smith won’t be brought back at his current cap figure. Reducing that number (currently set to be $27.6MM) could open the door not only to keeping that Smith in Green Bay, but Preston as well. In any case, Pauline expects a new contract for the latter to be finalized “sooner rather than later”.

Assuming a new deal can be reached, the Packers would be guaranteed at least two-thirds of the pass rush triumvirate consisting of both Smiths and Rashan Gary being in place for 2022. Especially if it were to lower his cap hit, a renegotiated contract would of course also help the team keep as many key pieces in place as they can, in an attempt to keep their Super Bowl window open as long as possible.

Za’Darius Smith Working Towards Return

Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur announced today that Za’Darius Smith has returned to practice after 17 weeks on IR. He’s been designated to return so this practice begins the window of return before Smith must be placed back on IR. 

The Packers have been working without their Pro Bowl pass rusher for all but 18 snaps of football this year. Smith exited the team’s Week 1 matchup with a back injury that had been nagging him for most of the offseason. Smith underwent back surgery in hopes that he could make a late-season return, and he’s hoping to stand by that expectation.

Smith had seen two straight seasons of double-digit sacks since signing with the Packers as a free agent. Green Bay has been eager to see their top pass rusher paired up again with Preston Smith and an improved Rashan Gary. In his absence, Preston Smith and Gary have combined for 18.5 sacks this season.

This return is timely as the Packers have a first-round bye in the playoffs before they face off against the lowest remaining seed from Super Wild Card Weekend. This means Smith will have two weeks of practice to get back up to game speed and be ready to contribute. Green Bay will be excited to get a boost to their pass rush as they strive for their first Super Bowl appearance since winning Super Bowl XLV as a Wild Card team in the 2010-11 NFL season.

Packers Rework Preston Smith’s Contract

Preston Smith will be back for a third Packers season. The sides agreed on a reworked deal Friday, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (on Twitter).

The veteran edge rusher will now be attached to a $1MM base salary in 2021, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, adding that much of Smith’s 2021 money will be converted into a signing bonus. That will cover $6.5MM, with Rapoport adding that there will be $4.4MM available via sack-based incentives.

As for the sack thresholds, Rapoport tweets Smith will need to reach six to trigger the minimum escalator ($500K). There are $750K bumps at the eight- and 10-sack marks, with the $1MM-plus incentives tied to 12 and 14 sacks. Smith has only eclipsed eight sacks once in six seasons.

Friday’s changes will reduce Smith’s cap number — previously at $16MM for ’21 — considerably while slashing his earnings somewhat. But the six-year veteran previously loomed as a cap-casualty candidate. The Packers will save $7.25MM by reworking Smith’s deal, per the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Pete Dougherty (on Twitter); they would have saved $8MM by cutting Smith.

One of the Packers’ two big-ticket 2019 edge signees, Smith took a step back last season. After registering 12 sacks in his first Packers slate, the ex-Washington linebacker ended the 2020 campaign with just four sacks and 11 QB hits. He also lost his starting spot to Rashan Gary for a time. But Gary and both Smiths — Preston and Za’Darius — are due back for a third season together.

Packers Likely To Restructure Aaron Rodgers’ Contract

The Packers cleared over $10MM of cap space by releasing Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner several days ago. However, Green Bay is still about $13MM above the cap floor of $180MM, so there is plenty of work to do before the 2021 league year officially begins on March 17.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the Packers will almost certainly restructure quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ contract in an effort to create additional cap room. The 37-year-old signal-caller is due a $14.7MM base salary in 2021, along with a $6.8MM roster bonus that will come due in March. Green Bay could convert some of that base salary into a signing bonus, a common maneuver that the club already executed with left tackle David Bakhtiari.

Of course, Rodgers said shortly after the Packers’ NFC Championship Game defeat in January that his future with the Packers was “uncertain,” which naturally led to plenty of speculation. Some reports suggested that his comments were an effort to secure a new contract that would represent a strong commitment from the franchise, whose selection of Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 draft clearly irked Rodgers. And another report indicated that the comments — which Rodgers later tried to downplay — were not contractually-motivated and that player and team were headed for a bitter divorce.

Meanwhile, Packers brass has insisted that Rodgers is not going anywhere, and Demovsky says the club certainly could undertake a more comprehensive restructuring of Rodgers’ contract beyond a simple base salary-to-bonus conversion. Green Bay selected Love on the heels of three consecutive “down” years from Rodgers (by his standards), but in 2020, Rodgers was nothing short of sensational. He set career highs in completion percentage (70.7%), QBR (84.4), and TD passes (48), so it makes sense that the team would be amenable to a new contract that gives its superstar additional security (financially and otherwise).

Demovsky also names OLB Preston Smith and DE Dean Lowry as potential cap casualties.

AFC Notes: Gordon, Colts, Ravens

The Patriots retained Josh Gordon‘s rights on via RFA tender, and the suspended wide receiver was spotted training with Tom Brady fairly recently. This does not mean the Patriots expect to have Gordon back. One of modern NFL history’s most unavailable players, Gordon is not in the Pats’ plans at this point, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com noted during a WEEI radio interview (via NBC Sports Boston). While the defending Super Bowl champions would welcome the 28-year-old talent back if he proved to be a “better version of himself” off the field than what showed up in New England last year, Rapoport adds he isn’t certain Gordon will receive another chance or if the mercurial standout would capitalize on it at this point. The Patriots made several receiver moves this offseason, drafting N’Keal Harry in Round 1 and signing Demaryius Thomas, Dontrelle Inman and Maurice Harris.

As the final offseason weekend (for several teams) progresses, here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Deviating from their long-held ways in free agency, the Packers splurged on a pair of pass rushers this offseason in bringing in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The latter Smith was on the Colts‘ radar. Despite holding the most cap space in the league entering free agency, the Colts let the market’s top pass rushers sign elsewhere before agreeing to terms with Chiefs cap casualty Justin Houston. But Chris Ballard targeted Preston Smith at free agency’s outset, Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star notes. Green Bay landed the former Washington edge player for four years and $52MM (just $16MM guaranteed). Houston, 30, nearly matched the 26-year-old’s guarantee figure, with $15.5MM, on his two-year, $23MM accord.
  • Michael Pierce‘s offseason downtrend continued Saturday when the Ravens placed the nose tackle on their active/NFI list. In addition to the contract-year interior lineman starting camp with that designation, the Ravens placed offensive lineman Alex Lewis on their active/PUP list, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic tweets. Pierce, who skipped Ravens OTAs after not signing his RFA tender until June, was overweight to the point of needing to be yanked from practice at minicamp. Lewis underwent offseason shoulder surgery. Both starters can be removed from these lists and return to practice at any point during camp.
  • Broncos GM John Elway does not have near-future retirement plans, but the ninth-year executive is approaching his career year-by-year at this point.

Packers To Sign OLB Preston Smith

The Packers won’t stop adding to their defense. Green Bay has agreed to terms with outside linebacker Preston Smith, a source told Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted that it’s a four-year deal for Smith worth $52MM. He’ll get $16MM to sign with $27.5MM coming his way over the first two years of the deal, Rapoport reports. It’s been a big day for the Packers, particularly on defense, as they’ve already added safety Adrian Amos and fellow outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. The three big signings in one day are indicative in the change of philosophy the Packers’ front office has undergone.

Under old GM Ted Thompson, the Packers were generally conservative and not very active in free agency. With team president Mark Murphy and new GM Brian Gutekunst now in charge, the team has been much more aggressive. With new coach Matt LaFleur in tow, the Packers have clearly decided to go bold.

They’ve already re-invented their defense, and will now have a very solid group of pass-rushers in both Smiths, Kenny Clark, and Mike Daniels. Smith comes to Green Bay from the Redskins, where he spent the first four years of his career. Last year he had 53 tackles, four sacks and one interception. The year before that he had eight sacks and two interceptions.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who LaFleur retained from Mike McCarthy’s staff, will have a lot of new pieces to work with. Paired with the returning pieces of Daniels, Clark, and the promising young cornerback duo of Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, the Packers’ defense has the potential to be really good next year.

New York Notes: Tannehill, Mosley, Giants

The Jets made some noise on Day 1 of the legal tampering period, adding Anthony Barr, Jamison Crowder and Josh Bellamy to the mix. Their Barr deal also may not preclude them from a C.J. Mosley pact. The Jets aggressively pursued the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker on Monday, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweets. Other teams — including the Browns, Colts and Redskins, in addition to the Ravens — made pushes for Mosley, and those may start back up again Tuesday. The linebacker remains unsigned. The Jets still have plenty of cap room and may be set to waive Darron Lee soon, creating room for Mosley alongside Avery Williamson.

While Barr is expected to help the Jets’ edge rush, he is also viewed as someone who will play off the ball, Mehta notes, comparing the latest high-priced Gregg Williams chess piece to Jamie Collins — the Browns’ off-ball ‘backer who would rush quarterbacks as well. However, it sounds like Barr — a UCLA edge defender — will see more time in rush roles than Collins did.

Here is more from the Jets’ first day of unofficial free agency and the latest from Giants headquarters:

  • A third Josh McCown Jets season could occur, with the team maintaining some interest in the soon-to-be 40-year-old passer backing up Sam Darnold, per SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano. But McCown released a statement Monday night indicating he is undecided on continuing his career, which could put the Jets in the market for another backup.
  • One of those options figures to be Ryan Tannehill, given his three-year run with Adam Gase in Miami. However, the soon-to-be-released quarterback has not come up in Jets meetings about filling their QB2 role, per Mehta. Tannehill could command a higher-end backup salary, like McCown, due to his extensive run as a starter. But he has not proven he can stay healthy since his knee troubles began in 2016.
  • A Mosley backup plan may be former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. The Jets expressed interest in the longtime Denver starter, according to Vacchiano. This would also point to Lee not being in the team’s plans any longer.
  • A third Morris Claiborne contract will not be on the Jets’ agenda, despite their need at corner, Vacchiano adds. Claiborne’s past two free agency stays ended with Jets deals; the veteran corner will likely have to seek his latest contract elsewhere.
  • The Broncos just reset the right tackle market, with their four-year, $52MM deal for Ja’Wuan James, and that should drive up the price for Daryl Williams. The Giants are likely to express interest in the former Panthers starter, Vacchiano notes. But as was the case with former Dave Gettleman find Andrew Norwell, whom the Giants tried to sign last year, Williams probably won’t come cheap. That said, Norwell and James were coming off healthy seasons; Williams missed almost all of last season because of leg injuries.
  • Big Blue, per Vacchiano, also inquired Monday about former Redskins outside linebacker Preston Smith, who is one of this market’s top edge defenders. The Giants just traded Olivier Vernon to the Browns and have a massive need on the edge. But Smith will also be a coveted commodity on this market.

Jets Interested In Fowler, Ansah

The Jets’ need for pass rushing help has been well documented and they’re already targeting some of this year’s biggest available names. Gang Green is showing interest in Dante Fowler (Rams), Ezekiel Ansah (Lions), and Preston Smith (Redskins), according to ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini (on Twitter). 

This year’s crop, at first glance, is positively loaded with impactful edge rushers. However, top flight guys like Demarcus Lawrence (Cowboys), Jadeveon Clowney (Texans), Frank Clark (Seahawks), and Dee Ford (Chiefs) are expected to receive tags or sign long-term deals with their respective clubs. That may leave the Jets to sift through some lower tier options, though Fowler, Ansah, and Smith all have upside.

Fowler, a former No. 3 overall pick, didn’t do a ton during the regular season, but he made a dent in the Rams’ first two playoff games. Ansah was limited to just seven games in 2018, but his history (14.5 sacks in 2015; 12.0 sacks in 2017) shows that he’s capable of much more when healthy. Smith, who had only four sacks last year, has amassed eight sacks in two of his four pro seasons and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ eighth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league in 2018.

With $102MM+ to burn, the Jets should be able to sign at least a couple of impact edge rushers in March.

No Contract Talks Between Redskins, Preston Smith

Preston Smith has quietly put together a solid four-year run with the Redskins since Washington selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft. Although his sack production has fluctuated a bit, he has posted 24.5 sacks in his career to go along with 59 quarterback hits, and the general consensus is that he still has room to grow.

He graded out as the eighth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league in 2018 (and No. 19 edge defender) per Pro Football Focus, and he may very well be the best rush linebacker on the market when free agency opens in March. Although the Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney and the Chiefs’ Dee Ford may be more desirable targets, they appear destined to remain with their current clubs, either through a long-term contract or the franchise tag.

Smith does not appear to be a candidate for a tag, and John Keim of ESPN.com reports that Smith and the Redskins have still not had any meaningful contract talks. That was the case in August, and it seems that nothing has changed since then. Washington did draft Ryan Anderson in the second round of the 2017 draft, and the 2019 draft is stocked with quality pass rushers, so it could be that the Redskins are prepared to increase Anderson’s role while adding a rookie quarterback hunter or two in April.

After all, Smith is in line for a nice payday. Pro Football Focus recently projected that Ford, if he does not play the 2019 season under the tag, would land a five-year, $95MM deal with $55MM in guarantees, and while Smith may not get too close to that, a contract worth a total of $60MM or so with a sizable guarantee would not be surprising. And since the Redskins’ salary cap will be negatively impacted by the Alex Smith situation, it makes sense that the team would want to explore cheaper alternatives.

One way or another, Preston Smith’s age, production, upside, and durability — he has not missed a game in his four years as a pro, and he has started every game for Washington since 2016 — will serve him well.