The Green Bay Packers have been a hard team to peg this season, though one thing has remained certain through all the ups and downs — the roster remains incomplete.
Many of the franchise’s questions reside on the offensive side of the ball. However, Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report authored a trade pitch on Wednesday, December 13, suggesting that Green Bay move on from starting edge-rusher Preston Smith in favor of draft capital. Ballentine’s proposal would send Smith to the Jacksonville Jaguars in return for a 2024 third-round draft pick.
The Green Bay Packers released Za’Darius Smith two years ago. He was 29 years old and coming off a major back injury so it made some sense, but they had to watch him sign with the rival [Minnesota] Vikings and put up a 10-sack season in 2022. Now, he’s part of one of the best defensive fronts in football, notching 3.5 sacks for the [Cleveland] Browns so far this season.
The Packers essentially had to watch a good player at a premium position walk away for nothing and continue to have some success.
They can prevent that pattern from repeating itself by trading away Preston Smith this offseason. They would save $2.5 million against the cap, which could go toward finding another player at the position, but this is more about selling as high as they can on a 31-year-old who is still playing at a reasonably high level.
Preston Smith’s Durability, Consistency Make Him Valuable Trade Target
Ballentine is correct in his assessment that the Packers can save $2.5 million next year by trading Smith ahead of June 1. However, if the team waits until after that date, it can save $12.4 million and still bring back a solid draft asset.
Smith is playing in the first season of a four-year, $52 million extension he signed in March 2022 and won’t become a free agent until after the 2026 campaign. Smith’s contract and age will drive his trade value down to a degree, though he still makes sense for a team that believes it can contend over the next couple of seasons.
Smith has tallied 17 pressures, 14 QB hits and 5.5 sacks while starting all 13 of Green Bay’s regular-season games in 2023, per Pro Football Reference. He started all 17 of the team’s contests in 2022 and started 16 of 17 games the year before, displaying sustained health and availability.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) currently ranks Smith as the 45th best edge defender in the NFL out of 109 players who have seen enough snaps to qualify at the position. He has been particularly good against the run this year, per PFF’s advanced metrics.
Rashan Gary, Lukas Van Ness Viable Pass-Rushing Duo for Packers
If Green Bay chooses to shop Smith during the offseason, the team will be taking a page out of the New England Patriots‘ playbook — moving on from a good, but expensive, player a year too early rather than a year too late.
That is not to say that Smith won’t still be a quality performer in 2024 and/or 2025. He’s proven he can remain healthy by never missing more than one game in a season since joining the NFL in 2015. His production has also been solid with 63.5 career sacks.
The two keys for the Packers in their evaluation of Smith will be how well they project him to play over the life of his contract versus his current projected trade value. Green Bay must also have a viable plan ready to replace him.
The Packers signed fellow pass-rusher Rashan Gary to a four-year, $96 million extension in late October and selected edge defender Lukas Van Ness out of Iowa with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Despite playing on a snap limit through his first handful of games in 2023, Gary is on pace for a career season. He already has 9 sacks, just 0.5 sacks behind the career-high he set in 2021. Gary has added 26 pressures and 19 QB hits, both of which are already the second-highest totals of his NFL tenure with four games remaining.
Van Ness has yet to start a game during his rookie campaign but has amassed 8 pressures, 6 QB hits and 2 sacks while playing just 33% of the Packers’ defensive snaps.