Packers: Za’Darius Smith may have played his final snap in Green Bay
Za’Darius Smith is one of the Green Bay Packers‘ most important players. A Pro Bowler. A leader. One of the league’s best pass rushers.
However, we have to consider a real possibility that he may have played his final snap for the Packers.
On Friday, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport reported that Smith is out for an “extended period of time” after undergoing back surgery. It’s an injury that Smith has been dealing with since the summer and has kept him out of the past two games on injured reserve.
If he is able to return, it might not be until much later in the season. According to Sports Illustrated’s Bill Huber, Smith returning this year is “not the expectation or something the team is counting on”.
If he doesn’t play another snap for the Packers in 2021, it’s possible the next time he’s playing in the regular season could be for another team.
Green Bay will enter 2022 with a salary-cap mess. If Aaron Rodgers is traded, the team will likely need to enter a rebuild phase. Many key players have expiring contracts next spring including Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Robert Tonyan. Jaire Alexander will likely get an extension at some point in 2022, too.
As for Smith, his cap number jumps up to $28.13 million in 2022, according to Over The Cap. Whether through an extension or by releasing him, the Packers need to get that cap number down. Releasing Smith in 2022 would save the team almost $16 million.
One option is a contract extension. However, the Packers have a number of other free agents they will need to pay. Smith will also be entering his age-30 season coming off a significant injury, so there would be some risk for the Packers.
If the team decides to turn the page to the Jordan Love era and enter a couple of years of rebuilding, it would make more sense to let some key players walk and start again with younger talent.
Even if Rodgers and Adams are both back and the Packers are still in win-now mode, it would be difficult to bring back Smith on his current cap number. A new deal for Adams would eat into any remaining cap room the Packers have. It could make an extension for Smith tough.
Hopefully, the Pro Bowl pass rusher will be able to return this season and help Green Bay make a Super Bowl run. However, it’s entirely possible he could’ve played his final snap for the Packers.