The Green Bay Packers have long been known as a franchise that prioritizes drafting and developing their own players.
For the past three decades, this has been a strategy that’s pretty difficult to argue with given the results. The Packers have won the third most games in the last 30 years, behind only the Patriots and Steelers.
However, on occasion the Packers have dipped their toes into free agency when they believed a specific player could put them over the top and help change the culture.
While there are many players worth mentioning, today I’m going to focus on the top three free-agent signings in Packers history, who have helped shape the franchise into what it is today.
3. Za’Darius Smith
When the Packers landed Za’Darius Smith in free agency, he was a productive rotational edge rusher with the Baltimore Ravens. So, to pay Smith like an established star was a gamble to say the least.
The Packers front office saw a player who they felt like could be an impact player on their defense at a premium position. Sometimes thinking you’re the smartest guy in the room blows up in your face. In this case it may have just been the move that helped the Packers reach the NFC Championship in back-to-back years.
Some might say it’s a bit premature to put Smith all the way up to third on this list, and to some degree I can understand that. However, in Z’s first two seasons he has yet to miss a single game all while registering 26 sacks, 144 pressures (4.5 a game), 29 tackles for loss, 60 quarterback hits and five forced fumbles. In short, he’s been incredible. Za’Darius has been a disruptor on a defense that desperately needed someone with his skill-set.
With another 10-sack season, Za’Darius will move inside the top 10 all-time sack leaders in Packers history. The immediate production and leadership he’s given the Packers can’t be understated. His versatility on the field to play either edge or D-line gives coordinators a lot of flexibility.
The past two seasons Smith has been an elite player at his position in the NFL and I expect him to have several productive seasons to follow. Even in the short time Smith has been a Packer, it’s more than fair to say he’s been worth every penny.