Preston Smith

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

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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.

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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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins Notes: Smith, Thompson

Linebacker Preston Smith is slated to be a free agent after the season, but the Redskins have yet to approach him about a new deal (Twitter link via John Keim of ESPN.com). The Redskins have hammered out pre-season extensions with key players in the past such as Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, and Jordan Reed, but Smith is still waiting on that call. For what it’s worth, Smith says he’s staying patient.

You play good; they’re going to pay good,” said Smith, who matched a career-high with eight sacks last season.

If Smith is not signed to a new deal and can offer a repeat performance, he could be in store for riches in March. For now, the former second-round pick is set to play out the final year of his contract as he earns a modest $1.2MM base salary.

Here’s more from D.C.:

  • Redskins running back Chris Thompson says he likely won’t be fully recovered from his broken fibula until November (Twitter link via Keim). Thompson has had a handful of surgeries in his career, but he says that this has been his most challenging recovery to date. Thompson suffered the broken leg last November, so he’s looking at a full year before being back to 100%. It’s a frustrating situation for Thompson, who was in the midst of a breakout campaign before being sidelined in 2017. Heading into Week 11, Thompson had posted 771 yards from scrimmage, a total that had already topped his previous career high, and was averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He was even more effective in the passing game, where he recorded 38 receptions for 494 yards.
  • Recently, the Redskins extended the contract of backup quarterback Colt McCoy.
  • On Wednesday, the Redskins added linebacker/defensive end Dadi Nicolas to the roster.

East Notes: Wilkerson, Washington, Battle

Let’s take a look at a few notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • Other writers have opined the same thing, but Darryl Slater of NJ.com definitively asserts that Muhammad Wilkerson, despite some speculation to the contrary, will not be holding out of Jets training camp this month.
  • Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com takes a look at five players who may begin the season on the Washington bench but who could crack the starting lineup before the end of the year. He tabs ILB Martrell Spaight and OLB Preston Smith as particularly intriguing players to watch in the Washington front seven.
  • Similarly, John Keim of ESPN.com believes Smith will ultimately overtake Trent Murphy as a full-time starter at outside linebacker. Washington‘s coaching staff loves Smith’s length, his hands, and his versatility, and Smith appears to have a much higher ceiling as a pass rusher.
  • In the same piece, Keim writes that Kirk Cousins still has fans on the Washington coaching staff and among certain players, but even though he showed flashes of strong play last year, the critical turnovers he made and his inability to respond well to those turnovers have compelled the team to hand Robert Griffin III the starting job.
  • Jordan Raanan of NJ.com does not expect the Giants to be interested in any of the players available in the supplemental draft. We heard yesterday that Clemson OT Isaiah Battle may be a good fit for Big Blue, but Raanan thinks otherwise. Although New York may take a flier on Battle in the sixth or seventh round of the supplemental draft, there are likely a number of other teams who will put a much higher value on his talent.
  • Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe offers her take on the 10 best moves made in the AFC East this offseason.

Washington Agrees To Terms With 10, Waives One

Washington has agreed to terms with nine of 10 picks from its 2015 draft class, tweets Mike Jones of the Washington Post. Eight of the nine have signed their contracts, according to ESPN’s John Keim (Twitter link). The only member of the class without a deal is first-rounder Brandon Scherff. Here’s the full list of picks with whom Washington has reached agreements:

  • Preston Smith, linebacker, Mississippi State (second round, 38th overall)
  • Matt Jones, running back, Florida (third round, 95th overall)
  • Jamison Crowder, wide receiver, Duke (fourth round, 105th overall)
  • Arie Kouandjio, offensive lineman, Alabama (fourth round, 112th overall)
  • Martrell Spaight, linebacker, Arkansas (fifth round, 141st overall)
  • Kyshoen Jarrett, safety, Virginia Tech (sixth round, 181st overall)
  • Tevin Mitchel, cornerback, Arkansas (sixth round, 182nd overall)
  • Evan Spencer, wide receiver, Ohio State (sixth round, 187th overall)
  • Austin Reiter, center, South Florida (seventh round, 222nd overall)

Additionally, Washington has re-signed offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe and waived cornerback Courtney Bridget, according to Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com (via Twitter). The team waived Nsekhe last week before deciding to bring him back.