Breaking down Green Bay Packers’ busy start to free agency

Green Bay Packers, Preston Smith - Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers, Preston Smith - Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Breaking down the Packers’ busy start to free agency.

Monday marked the start of the NFL’s legal tampering period in which teams can negotiate and unofficially sign players to new deals that don’t become official until Wednesday.

The Green Bay Packers wasted no time in making waves with the following moves:

  • Cut OLB Za’Darius Smith (saves roughly $15 million)
  • Cut RT Billy Turner (saves roughly $4 millon)
  • Extended OLB Preston Smith
  • Re-signed De’Vondre Campbell

The deals and moves are far from over. The Packers are roughly $22 million over the cap and must get under it by Wednesday at 3 p.m. CT.

Let’s start with Za’Darius Smith and Billy Turner. This is the reality of being over the salary cap. Teams have to part with key players in order to create room.

Smith was a star with the Packers. He became a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro. Turner became a staple at the RT spot on the line for three seasons. They were key pieces for this team. But the Packers wouldn’t have made these moves without having a plan in mind.

Rashan Gary is an emerging star. Preston Smith is a strong No. 2 pass rusher. Veteran Whitney Mercilus could be back too. The Packers could afford to let go of Smith.

In terms of Turner, injuries also plagued him towards the end of his time in northeast Wisconsin. The Packers’ offensive line is also arguably the deepest in the game. Assuming free agency goes Green Bay’s way, the Packers could have five offensive linemen that could play the tackle position. The Packers have a plan in place to replace these guys.

In terms of new deals, the Packers made moves by bringing back improved pass-rusher Preston Smith and All-Pro LB De’Vondre Campbell.

Starting with Smith, after taking a pay-cut last season after having a down year in 2020, Smith improved in sacks, tackles for loss, QB hits, forced fumbles, and pressures. He was rewarded with a four-year, $52.5 million extension, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, which will keep him in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. He and Rashan Gary will be the cornerstones of the Packers’ pass rush for years to come.

The re-signing of LB De’Vondre Campbell was absolutely paramount for this franchise. The Packers have struggled to find stability and superstardom at the ILB spot for years.

Campbell is coming off the best season for a Packers ILB arguably this century. He was the only player in the league to have at least 140 tackles, 2+ interceptions, 2+ sacks, 5+ QB hits, and 5+ tackles for loss. He was a game-changer in 2021. Green Bay rewarded the All-Pro with a five-year, $50 million deal, per Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, that will keep him in the middle of the defense for years to come.

There is still a lot more to do for the Packers’ front office. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that superstar WR Davante Adams will not play in 2022 under the franchise tag. Green Bay needs to pay Adams. There is no other option. But that will happen.

Adams will not sit out a possible Super Bowl season. He is not that type of player. On the other hand, the Packers’ front office knows this team cannot win a Super Bowl without Adams. So if he were to sit out, the team might be in trouble. Something will have to give.

In addition, the details of QB Aaron Rodgers’ new, cap-friendly contract are yet to be determined. In terms of unrestricted free agents, notable players such as standout CB Rasul Douglas, starting TE Robert Tonyan, and deep-threat WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling are all in line for new deals.

Restricted/exclusive rights free agents include do-it-all WR Allen Lazard, starting ILB Krys Barnes, and capable backup OT Yosh Nijman. Maybe Green Bay will be interested in free-agent WRs such as Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, and Will Fuller. Who will they pay up for? Time will tell.

It is safe to say that the front office, led by GM Brian Gutekunst, isn’t afraid to pay up for impactful players while letting go of key contributors. The ball is in their court for the next few days and months as they try to open up the franchise’s Super Bowl window as wide as possible while also making sure they get under the salary cap by Wednesday afternoon.

Judging by what has happened the last few weeks in Green Bay, the window continues to open wider little by little.