The Green Bay Packers have overhauled the defensive side of the ball…again. But this time it included three free agents, one of which will have the most pressure on him entering the 2019 season.
GM Brian Gutekunst broke the bank in free agency, securing four different lucrative contracts with Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner. The signings were unlike anything that had happened in Green Bay in years, as the organization had routinely ignored the free-agent acquisition process.
The signings undoubtedly improved the roster, but there is a reason to be concerned. The Packers roster was in such awful shape, that just the slightest drop in play from Aaron Rodgers plunged the team to a 6-9-1 record.
A new head coach, offensive coordinator, and numerous players later, and the team looks completely different. But the Packers may have been so far out of the Super Bowl picture, that pushing the amount of money they did into the future might only get them so far.
Za’Darius Smith inked a four-year, $66 million deal, making him the second-highest-paid player on the entire team. The Packers are paying Smith as though he will be the consistent pass-rushing presence that they simply hadn’t had with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.
But once the signing of Preston Smith was reported, the other moves the Packers made were suddenly brought into better focus.
Smith has never missed a game throughout his four years in the league. He is coming off a pedestrian 2018 campaign, when he registered just four sacks.
However, Smith produces consistent pressure on a weekly basis. In fact, in 2017, Smith had the highest pressure rate of any edge rusher in the entire league. While the Lions paid $90 million to sign Trey Flowers, who mind you is leaving Bill Belichick, the Packers paid as good, if not a better pass rusher a low enough figure to still secure a deal for Za’Darius Smith.
After drafting Rashan Gary in the first round of the draft, the defensive line now roughly looks like this:
DE: Preston Smith–Dean Lowry
DE: Za’Darius Smith–Rashan Gary
However, the Packers can create a number of permutations upfront. Za’Darius Smith can line up right over the center, or split out the end as a stand-up outside linebacker. Should he do that, the line could look a little different:
DE: Preston Smith–Dean Lowry
DT: Kenny Clark–Kingsley Keke–Tyler Lancaster
DE: Rashan Gary
OLB: Za’Darius Smith
There is no shortage of options for Mike Pettine, the defensive coordinator. And with the ultra-reliable Adrian Amos now playing safety instead of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the defense looks promising.
Of course, a lot rides on whether or not Blake Martinez finally takes a jump, or whether Kevin King or Josh Jackson can prove to be worthy of a starting job. But, Preston Smith will prove to be the anchor for the defense.
Whatever the Packers decide to do schematically, Preston Smith is the key. His ability to defend the run as well as be a consistent pocket disruptor will do wonders for this defense. Moving the quarterback off the spot will give Rashan Gary and Za’Darius Smith an extra half-second to get to the quarterback and do what they were brought to town to do.
Gary has reportedly been having an excellent training camp, which could be a huge development for this defense.
There is a lot of growing and developing to do in Green Bay, but Preston Smith could be the key to a great Packer defense in 2019.