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NFC North in Free Agency: Packers swap out edge rushers

The Packers decided to go in a new direction with their EDGE rushers this off-season, bringing in two new Smiths.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This is the fourth and final installment of a series examining the free agent moves around the NFC North division.

After last years dabbling in the shallow end of free agency, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst took off the organization’s water wings and waded deeper into the pool. He added key pieces to a defense that lacked depth last season, while cutting bait with some familiar faces.

The new signings by the Packers changed the draft strategy of the team and how analysts might have looked at potential picks. There is still great advantage to adding a pass rusher in the draft, despite signing Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith as edge rushers, but now the need is less dire if the right prospect isn’t there with one of the team’s first two picks at 12 or 30 overall.

Both Smiths have sack numbers that are lower than one would like to see from stud pass rushers given the large sums of money they received, but their situations can be seen as a cause for the lack of production. Preston logged 53 pressures in 468 pass rushing stats last year, which ranks among the league’s best. As we’ve heard quite clearly this off-season, it’s about how well disrupt the quarterback that’s important.

Za’Darius Smith put together 8.5 sacks last season, but in limited action. There’s reason to think that perhaps the production was a flash in the pan, or alternatively, could mean that more opportunities for him to be disruptive will mean even greater sack production.

The Packers also added a young safety in Adrian Amos. Not only was he taken from a division rival, but he helps plug a glaring weakness after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was dealt to Washington last season. Eddie Jackson got a lot of the shine in Chicago, but his former teammate, Amos, is a skilled safety who allowed Jackson to do what he could in certain cases. Amos is a sound tackler who can provide run-game support in the box as well as cover deep.

Bringing in new players weren’t the only moves the Packers made this off-season. They cut bait with long-time Packer Clay Matthews III by letting him walk in free agency and released Nick Perry just two years after signing him to a hefty extension in 2017. Matthews was an aging EDGE who probably wasn’t worth a new contract given that he’s mostly rotational pass rusher at this point.

Perry, meanwhile, had one good year just in time to earn a fat extension, but around that, his time in the NFL has been marred by injury and spotty play. It was time to cut ties with the linebacker and start fresh.

Gutekunst can now shift his focus to the draft without having urgent needs looming over the Packers’ two draft picks in the first round. Another EDGE? Adding a tight end in addition to re-signing Marcedes Lewis? An offensive lineman? All options are on the table.

Major Additions

  • Za’Darius Smith, EDGE
  • Adrian Amos, S
  • Preston Smith, EDGE
  • Billy Turner, OL


  • Marcedes Lewis, TE
  • Geronimo Allison, WR (RFA)

Departed in Free Agency/Released

  • Clay Matthews, EDGE (Rams)
  • Nick Perry, EDGE (unsigned)
  • Randall Cobb, WR (Cowboys)
  • Bashaud Breeland, CB (Chiefs)
  • Jake Ryan, ILB (Jaguars)