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Green Bay releases OLB Za’Darius Smith in a cap-saving move

The transaction gives the Packers $15.75 million in cap space for 2022

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Shortly after the Green Bay Packers signed outside linebacker Preston Smith to a four-year extension on Monday, the team made the decision to release fellow 2019 free agency signing in Za’Darius Smith, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. In three years with the Packers, Za’Darius recorded two Pro Bowl seasons, including a Second-Team All-Pro effort in 2022, good for 16 sacks.

Unfortunately, back injuries derailed his time in Green Bay, leading to Smith missing nearly all of last summer’s workouts and preseason snaps. He returned to the field in Week 1 in a limited capacity, mostly as a pass-rushing specialist on third downs, but was placed on injured reserve in Week 2 and was only activated for the Packers’ playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Including the playoffs, Smith played a total of 37 snaps in 2021.

With a high-priced tag number of $27.6 million, this move was always thought to be likely. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, the Packers have freed up $15.75 million in cap space with this decision to go along with the $8 million they saved with Preston’s extension earlier in the day.

In what were likely agent-driven posts, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero both tweeted exactly “Za’Darius Smith had the option to stay at this year’s owed cash amount, but both sides ultimately agreed it was best to move on.”

The Packers still have a few potential moves to make today, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Davante Adams, cornerback Jaire Alexander, receiver Randall Cobb, safety Adrian Amos, right tackle Billy Turner and defensive lineman Dean Lowry still set to make $5 million or more in base salary this season. Base salary is the most manipulated aspect of a player’s contract, as converting salary into a bonus often lowers a player’s cap hit