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Will (Not Can) Preston Smith Bounce Back?

The debate rages: how can the Packers refrain from a decline in its player personnel compared with last season – or perhaps even have personnel improvement in 2021?

Given the team’s salary cap woes, it might seem impossible. But what if a number of Green Bay players on last season’s roster play considerably better this season? I propose, as Exhibit A, Preston Smith, who at age 28 is about to embark on his seventh pro season.

Almost everyone, myself included, opined that Preston Smith would be released prior to the official start of the 2021 season. We were wrong, because we were ignorant of the terms of Smith’s contract. Those terms made it highly unlikely that the Pack would part with Smith: to do so would have resulted in a big salary cap hit even though he was no longer on the team.

By reworking Smith’s contract, GM Gutekunst was able to keep him for another year at nearly the same cost as it would have been to release him – so retaining him was actually a no-brainer. I believe that the Packers will be able to release him after this season, without incurring a big cap hit – and this will greatly aid the team in its salary cap struggles next year.

Smith’s pro career has been a roller coaster ride. His sack totals in his four years with Washington and the last two years in Green Bay have been: 8 sacks in 2015, 8 in 2017, and 12 in 2019. However, in the even years they’ve only been: 4.5 in 2016, 4 in 2018, and 4 in 2020. His tackle totals have been more consistent, though they also dropped from a high of 56 in 2019 to only 38 last season – when he lost a fair amount of playing time to second-year man Rashan Gary.

Preston Smith

Nov 29, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith (91) returns a fumble recovery for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Motivation

From his up-and-down record, I have to conclude that Preston needs lots of motivation in order to play well. This might work to the Packers’ advantage this season, because if Smith wants to ever get another big-money NFL contract, he’ll need to put up numbers like he did in those odd-numbered years.

Smith’s 4-year deal with the team had him averaging an overly-generous $13 million per year. If Preston turns in a second consecutive clunker of a season, his free agent pay potential will be about a fourth of what his original contract with the Packers provided.

As proof of his ability and potential, when Smith participated in the NFL Combine in 2015, he was above average (for one-gap defensive ends) in all eleven physical measurements and test marks. The then-Reskins selected him with the 38th overall draft choice. At the NFL Combine, he was measured at 6’5” and 277 pounds; he’s now listed at 265 pounds. It’s not a question of whether he can again perform like he did two, four, and six years ago – it’s a question of will he be inspired to do so.

PFF Grade Comparisons

Pro football Focus rated Smith as follows last season: 89th out of 109 edge defenders overall; 41st at run defense, 94th at pass rush, and 93rd at coverage. Gutekunst and Packers fans are hoping that Smith will bounce back in a big way.

The breakdowns for Smith and his fellow edge rushers, Za’Darius Smith (rated 14th overall by PFF) and Rashan Gary (63rd overall) are instructive. Z was rated 50th in run defense, 10th in pass rush, and 91st in coverage. Gary came in at 63rd in run defense, 54th in pass rush, and 1st in coverage.

That’s right, Rashan tops all 108 other comparators when it comes to pass coverage. And yes, those NFL Combine numbers are a good indication of a player’s potential: Gary was 95th percentile in the dash (4.58 seconds). His percentile rank at the vertical jump was 95th, his 20-yard shuttle rank was 86th, and his wingspan measurement was 87th.

But getting back to Smith, based on PFF grades, in pass situations the Pack would ideally play Z and Gary; in run situations, they’d want Preston and Z; should the Packers want an edge player drop into coverage, they’d want Rashan to be the one, as both of the others rank in the 90’s as to coverage.

The Packers need to find a way to inspire Preston to give maximum effort on the field. An example of Preston’s laziness is his propensity for jumping offside. He’s done this about a half-dozen times since joining the Packers. He’s not fooled by the quarterback’s cadence – he simply tries to guess at when the ball will be snapped, which often gives the opposition a “free play” in which to launch a deep pass, or a second chance to convert a third down.

Summary

If Preston Smith wants to be on the field for the bulk of the defensive snaps this season, he’s going to have to outperform third-year edge rusher Rashan Gary – which I frankly don’t think he’ll manage to do. Even if Gary overtakes him, however, the Packers should possess one of the league’s better edge rush threesomes. I would also expect the new defensive coordinator to freely platoon them according to the opponent and down and distance. In the event that Za’Darius or Rashan are injured, Preston also gives the team decent depth at the position.

By the way, Preston has now played in 96 games as a pro – he’s yet to miss an NFL game due to injury. He also stayed pretty healthy during his four seasons at Mississippi State.

If Preston is able to return to the form he displayed in 2019, it will give Green Bay a big boost on pass defense – which is where they most need help at this time.

Tags:
Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

    1

23 Comments

  1. Howard March 30, 2021

    I hate it when veteran players “pace “ theirselves through the regular season. I think Preston Smith started out the season doing so. P. Smith was also out of shape to start the season. Add in a shoulder injury that Smith sustained in the TB game and you have a very poor start to a season. I do believe P. Smith played a lot better down the stretch. The upgrade in play by P. Smith just happened to occur right after Gary started over P. Smith. In the playoffs P. Smith was the highest graded Packer edge defender by PFF. P. Smith 70.7, R. Gary 67.7, and Z. Smith 65.4. P. Smith did not get any sacks in the playoffs. P. Smith played an all around very good game against the Rams. P. Smith stopped three 3rd down plays against the Rams. In the TB game none of the Packer edge rushers sacked Brady, but I thought P. Smith put the most pressure on Brady of the three.
    .
    I thought P. Smith would be cut, but I think his play down the stretch run and the playoffs is why P. Smith is still a Packer. That and maybe his relationship with Z. Smith?
    .
    Your right Rob, the Packers need to find a way to inspire P. Smith. I think they may have done so by the sack incentives inserted into P. Smith’s restructured contract. If A potential added 4.4 million to your salary for 14 sacks doesn’t inspire you what will?

    Reply
    1. PF4L March 30, 2021

      Why do they need to try so hard to motivate a guy they’ve already given 34 million to?
      Shoveling money to him kind of defeats the intent.
      I’m sure they tried different ways to motivate Eddie Lacy.
      But true motivation comes from within.
      .
      I don’t have a clue why they cut him a check for 6.5 million and then only pay him 1.5 million during the season. They should have cut him, started Gary, and moved on.
      I’m guessing there weren’t a lot of takers for 28 year old Preston in his prime, in the trade market….shocking

      P. Smith putting the most pressure on Brady….is an interesting positive…. i guess.
      But if i remember the game, Brady was fairly comfortable all game sans a few pressures and one sack….by Clark?
      .
      Sorry,,,This dude and the Packers check book get me goin.

      You pay this dude a Kings ransom, and you’d think at the very, very, very least he could do is come into camp in shape.
      Nope, just shovel him some more money in advance. That’s motivating?.

      But….Jordy..a highly productive professional, self motivated….gets shown the door.
      His replacement….a bad contract.
      .
      BROKEN

      Reply
      1. stiggy March 31, 2021

        “Why do they need to try so hard to motivate a guy they’ve already given 34 million to?”

        ****

        You answered your own question.

        Reply
        1. PF4L March 31, 2021

          Rob, generally speaking sans all the detail of my lost post…
          .
          Some of my points were Preston is far away from being considered Elite.
          He had one season of double digits sacks, so did Kyler Fackrell and Nick Perry.

          Another contention was the combine. Of course athleticism matters in professional athletes, but that’s not the teams major interest of the combine. They already know how an athlete performs physically from scouting trips and game tape.
          .
          Performing track meet functions against no defenders wearing no pads doesn’t come remotely close in assessing a players future performance in actual NFL games than actual game tape. I think this has been proven in the best…remember?

          Teams go for two main reasons
          1) They want to gather all the medical history and perform physicals concerning college injuries
          2) They want to have one on ones with the players, talk to other people surrounding those players to gather behavioral, drive, commitment, personality and temperament
          traits…..besides the back round info they’ve already obtained from investigators.
          .
          Simple speak….They want to spend their millions on the right players with the least risk of getting burned.
          .
          The combine itself is to mostly gain viewership for the TV network and is hyped accordingly.
          This is where the mock draft experts make their living.

          Reply
        2. PF4L March 31, 2021

          I don’t know Stigg.

          Are you implying because a team paid him too much in advance, he’s not motivated enough?
          That maybe somewhat true Stigg, but that’s on the player, not the team.
          **********************************
          Let me try again Stigg….your missing the point.
          .
          Players play for……?
          Cash, to make a living, buy bling and Bentleys…correct?
          That is….the motivator
          Isn’t that why you and i go to work everyday…for cash?

          What would my employer say to me if i went up to him and asked them to motivate me more, tell them i’m just not giving it my all.
          I don’t know what they’d do, but i bet terminating me might come into their mind.
          .
          OK then…If a team signs a player to a 4 year 52 million dollar contract, isn’t that the motivation that the team provides? Are the checks bouncing?
          .
          Or…after giving him that money, is it the teams responsibility to hold his hand and somehow mentally motivate him to earn the money he was given?
          Should they hire a shrink? Have him put under a trance to play hard?
          .
          After shelling out the cash, why is it incumbent on the team to motivate a 28 year old grown ass man to play hard and earn his money?
          .
          Rob has a different angle…..
          Rob thinks he might be motivated this year…..all because he wants to land another big contract from a team.
          .
          I say this….if you sign a guy for 52 million, and the grown man isn’t motivated to play hard and hold up his end of the bargain….get the fuck rid of him.
          Is that the kind of player to help you win an NFCCG?
          Is that the type of player you want in your locker room?
          .
          As i write this, it’s a damn shame that Preston still calls himself a Green Bay Packer, especially with Gary available who gives everything he has on the field.
          .
          That…is on Gute.
          .

          Reply
          1. PF4L March 31, 2021

            Lol….maybe, as Rob proposed, Preston performs well this season based on it being an odd year…:)…I love you Rob!!
            .
            And maybe. i’ll get to meet the Easter Bunny…in person this Sunday.

            Reply
          2. Stiggy March 31, 2021

            That’s precisely what I’m saying. He’s been given the wad…probably earned the bulk of his career earnings already…and doesn’t give a shit anymore. Wouldn’t be the first or last case of a pro athlete mailing it in after signing a contract…Honor is really an individual thing but the contract is very clear…he got paid a lot of money whether he performed or not and given he’s an 8 million dollar hit with his new contract structure the packers decided they were better off keeping him for 8 million than having nothing for 8 million.

            The fucked up signing him to begin with but given the way its worked out its the best way they can address the situation at this point in time…and who knows…he may be grossly underpaid this year if he takes getting that next deal seriously

            Reply
          3. PF4L March 31, 2021

            “He’s been given the wad…probably earned the bulk of his career earnings already”
            .
            Be careful using the word “earned”. There is a difference between. earned, and received.
            .
            Preston was a 8 million dollar hit whether they cut him, or now, a 7.25 million hit (2022).

            The point being…. is about him needing to be motivated. So i’m done here.
            .

            Reply
          4. stiggy April 2, 2021

            “Be careful using the word “earned”. There is a difference between. earned, and received.”

            lol. So true. Good for him. Maybe he can buy cole madison a drink right?

            Reply
  2. PF4L March 30, 2021

    Random thoughts….
    .
    It’s a free country but i know i could do without how a players combine metrics reflects (yawn) potential as a football player.
    That might be true about his performance at a track meet somewhere.
    Or how fast he can install 4 new tires on your truck.
    I think that myth has largely been debunked over the years.
    .
    His percentile rank at the vertical jump was 95th, his 20-yard shuttle rank was 86th, and his wingspan measurement was 87th, and his toe jam retention rank was 15th. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah………..
    .
    The other issue that wasn’t brought up….Who is coming off the bench?
    The highly compensated free agent, 89th best edge defender in the league, or the 12th pick of the draft from 3 years ago.
    My guess…..it depends, does Preston come into camp with a tire around his waist again?
    Combine metrics from 7 years ago do not give an accurate indication of future potato chip and dip intake.
    .
    Motivation….
    .
    With Preston’s deal reworked, he will receive 8 million in earnings for the 2021 season Out of that 8 million, he already received 6,5 million in new signing bonus money under restructure.
    Preston has already received a total of 34.5 million as of today. For what…? 16 sacks? The NFL’s 89th best edge rusher?
    Am i the only one on God’s green earth calling this signing BS?
    .
    “But PF4L…he had good combine metrics!”…..SHUT UP!!!!!….LOL
    .
    Did any one, at any time, predict signing 2 expensive free agent edge rushers, than about a month later, drafting another one with the 12th pick………..could in some way, not be a wise move?
    Did ANYONE predict that?
    Let me rephrase the question.
    Did ANYONE predict that, the very day Gary was drafted?
    Did ANY fan have that insight?
    I bet that fan was probably rebuked by other fans.
    I bet that fan, has been proven right and might be telling the other fans to…eat a dick.
    .
    Although, i’m only guessing…. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Reply
    1. Robster March 30, 2021

      So, don’t let me put words in your mouth, but are you saying that athleticism is unimportant for athletic endeavors such as pro football games? Though they are imperfect, combine tests and measurements have been devised precisely as an aid to predicting NFL success or failure. They are a strong indicator of a player’s ceiling or potential. They aren’t a guarantee, as other factors come into play (desire, opportunity, health, etc.) On the other hand, I’d wager you will find very few NFL star players who had well below average combine numbers. Preston is a fine example. He’s proven (in odd-numbered years) that he has the athleticism to be elite, but he’s also shown (in even-numbered years) that athleticism alone is insufficient. If NFL combine numbers are blah, I wonder why so many NFL scouts and front office guys are currently taking extra pains as the draft approaches to find other ways to determine players’ athleticism – since it’s the first time since the mid-1980’s that there won’t be any combine testing. Absent some compelling argument to the contrary, I’ll continue to be a “combine” fan.

      Reply
      1. PF4L March 30, 2021

        SOB Rob, i just spent a lot of time commenting back to you and i tried to copy it in case it didn’t send right, adnd i lost and im fjkerfwhkbfehkbq really pissed off.

        sorry

        Reply
        1. PF4L March 31, 2021

          gfdi…it happened again. It posted but in a different area, under stiggys comment.
          .
          Here……
          .
          Rob, generally speaking sans all the detail of my lost post…
          .
          Some of my points were Preston is far away from being considered Elite.
          He had one season of double digits sacks, so did Kyler Fackrell and Nick Perry.

          Another contention was the combine. Of course athleticism matters in professional athletes, but that’s not the teams major interest of the combine. They already know how an athlete performs physically from scouting trips and game tape.
          .
          Performing track meet functions against no defenders wearing no pads doesn’t come remotely close in assessing a players future performance in actual NFL games than actual game tape. I think this has been proven in the best…remember?

          Teams go for two main reasons
          1) They want to gather all the medical history and perform physicals concerning college injuries
          2) They want to have one on ones with the players, talk to other people surrounding those players to gather behavioral, drive, commitment, personality and temperament
          traits…..besides the back round info they’ve already obtained from investigators.
          .
          Simple speak….They want to spend their millions on the right players with the least risk of getting burned.
          .
          The combine itself is to mostly gain viewership for the TV network and is hyped accordingly.
          This is where the mock draft experts make their living.

          Reply
          1. Mick April 1, 2021

            Funny how P. Smiths’ performance on the field happens in odd numbered years. When it comes time to either extend him, of let him test the market, you would consider it a yellow flag; if not a red flag that mysteriously his performance in even numbered years wanes off. If it happens once, could be because of injury; but this is common with him. This is a “prove it” year for him. Maybe Barry can get the best out of him. If Smith continues underperforming, his desire to play will no doubt be in question. If that’s the case, I would file his salary in the “wasted bin” right next to Nick Perrys!

            Reply
          2. PF4L April 1, 2021

            I’m not buying into this odd and even theory for one second, other than it being a coincidence.
            .
            His odd years (his better years?)
            He had 12 sacks, one season.
            12 sacks in a 10 game season would be something.
            12 sacks in a 16 game season isn’t breaking any ceiling.
            Nor does it make a player great.
            12 sacks…paid 18 million…you make the call.
            .
            The 2 other good “odd” years he had 8 sacks..8, each season.
            What is that in a 16 game season, average?….a half notch above average?
            Didn’t Kyler Fackrell have 10 sacks in the 2018 season?

            Lets not pretend his “odd” years set the NFL on fire.

            Reply
  3. PF4L March 30, 2021

    PF4L

    March 30, 2021 at 05:37 pm
    .
    In 2011..fresh off a SB win, SB MVP, Rodgers wins an MVP for the 2011 season going 15-1 with the 32nd ranked defense.
    Rodgers was the hottest thing going in the NFL back then.
    .
    Fast forward to 2020-2021
    Rodgers was/is the hottest thing going in the NFL.
    .
    In between won another MVP
    .
    Appreciate what you have, while you have it.
    Sometimes it takes a player to be gone, for some fans to appreciate what they had.
    .
    I know and appreciate what we have, always did…..which brings me to….
    .
    Mr. Jordan Love…someday soon, you might be the starting QB under center for the Green Bay Packers after 30 years of Favre and Rodgers.
    .
    Best of luck….Godspeed.

    Reply
  4. PF4L March 31, 2021

    PF4L
    .
    March 31, 2021 at 08:49 am
    .
    I’m surprised Silverstein didn’t bring up the 2022 cap and where the Packers fit.
    .
    The Packers are almost ranked at the bottom, only above Dallas, they are already over the cap with only 30 players under contract.
    Not to mention Alexander and Adams waiting for their monster contracts this season.
    .
    The Packers top 15 players in 2022 account for 190+ million towards the cap
    .
    The Packers don’t have to worry about 2023 yet, but 2022 is another story. Right now, they are just trying to survive this year.
    .
    Some commenters have pointed out other teams had to push off salary and restructure as well.
    That may be technically true, but they either had a surplus, or they didn’t have to deal with a 30 plus million deficit once the cap was determined.
    .
    As always…no charge.

    Reply
    1. PF4L March 31, 2021

      Rob Demovsky
      ESPN Staff Writer
      GREEN BAY, Wis. — If you thought the Green Bay Packers faced a challenge with the salary cap this year, wait until you see what they’re up against in 2022.
      http://www.espn.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/50654/the-packers-last-dance-their-2022-salary-cap-situation-says-its-possible
      **********************************
      We used different examples, but the storyline is similar.

      Reply
  5. PF4L April 1, 2021

    Observation….

    Since March 18th, there have been 7 articles submitted.
    Kudos to Rob who wrote 6 of them,
    Not sure if your compensated, but you damn well should be.

    Reply
    1. Mick April 1, 2021

      I agree;;;;;;;;;; thumbs up, Rob!

      Reply
  6. KILLER April 2, 2021

    Yeah, he could bounce back and likely will. I bet that’s his worst year ever as a pro. I think Wisconsin cheese weighed him down. Cheese curds curdled in his belly.

    As much as I like to make fun of all the money spent on Preston Smith by the Packers, I’ve actually always liked him since before he was drafted. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t MUCH better this year.

    Reply
    1. PF4L April 2, 2021

      Well yea smarty pants, it’s easy to predict that now, being an “odd” year and all.
      .
      f*n kids.

      Reply
  7. PED April 4, 2021

    How much did P Smith’s injury play into his 2020 production? He was wearing a shoulder brace for at least the first half of the season. 2021 will be interesting

    Reply

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