Unlike the other four players mentioned so far, Preston Smith has played well this season. The veteran pass rusher has stepped up big-time in recent weeks, making four sacks and seven quarterback hits in the past three games. According to Pro Football Focus, no edge defender in the NFL earned a higher grade than Smith in Week 8.
Smith is a consistent run defender and is making a difference as a pass rusher. He is one of the veteran leaders on defense, especially after the Packers traded Rasul Douglas. Smith is leading by example.
However, there's a good chance this will be Smith's final season in Green Bay.
The Packers are in rebuild mode. They won't admit it, but trading away a key defensive player like Douglas for a third-round pick tells us all we need to know. Green Bay is focused on the future, which means getting younger on both sides of the ball while creating a healthier salary cap.
According to Over The Cap, Smith's cap numbers over the next three seasons are $16.51 million, $17.51 million, and $18.21 million, and he turns 31 next month. Releasing Smith in the offseason would only save the Packers $2.52 million, leaving them with a dead cap hit of just under $14 million. However, the important part is that Smith's contract would come off the books in 2025.
Smith is playing at a high level. The Packers will likely need to move on for financial reasons, but he should have no trouble finding a new team.