Packers 2021 offseason position review: Edge rushers

Green Bay Packers, Za'Darius Smith - Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers, Za'Darius Smith - Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers‘ pass rush was up there with the best in the league last season. Expectations were high for this group entering 2020.

With Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith leading the way, as well as Rashan Gary expected to take on an increased role, did the pass rush meet expectations this year?

Also, what could be ahead in the offseason?

2020 season review

After the Smith Bros. both put up double-digit sacks in 2019, expectations were high entering the season.

While Za’Darius Smith wasn’t as consistent as his first season in Green Bay, he still put up strong numbers with 12.5 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Smith continues to be the Packers’ best pass rusher.

Preston Smith was unable to replicate his 2019 form, however, with just four sacks and 11 quarterback hits. He was outplayed by Rashan Gary for much of the year, who finished his second season with five sacks and 11 QB hits despite only starting four games compared to 13 for Smith.

Overall, Green Bay’s pass rush wasn’t as strong as in 2019. And in the most important game of the season with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the pass rush struggled to make an impact against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What’s next in 2021?

In need of freeing up cap room before the new league year begins, the Packers may decide to move on from Preston Smith. Had they been in a healthier salary cap situation, this likely wouldn’t even be a conversation despite his struggles in 2020.

But Smith’s cap hit will be $16 million in 2021, according to Over The Cap, and the Packers could half that by releasing him.

If that’s the case, Za’Darius Smith and Gary would be the likely starters in 2021, although depth at edge rusher would be thin. It would make sense to add more pass rushers in the draft.