On Monday, the Green Bay Packers released outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith in a move that saved the team $15.75 million in 2022 cap space. According to Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson, Smith signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday on a deal worth a minimum of $35 million over four years that can reach $50 million with incentives.
Smith was originally drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, leading to him starting 16 games over four years with Baltimore. The Kentucky product signed a four-year, $66 million contract with the Packers in 2019 and was able to earn two Pro Bowl nods in Green Bay after he totaled 26 combined sacks over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
A back injury derailed Smith’s 2021 season, leading to him playing just 18 snaps (all in Week 1) for the Packers in the regular season. Should he recover fully from the surgery that kept him off the field in 2021, he will likely be one of the better pass-rushers in the league once again.
His return to the Ravens shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Smith had been posting photos from Baltimore on his Instagram and scrubbed his page of references to the Green Bay Packers. Smith, at one point, claimed on Instagram that he was going to commission a chain to be made which looked like the NFL’s captain patch after the Packers announced that he would not be a captain for 2021 season.
Smith’s legacy in Green Bay, ultimately, is going to be complicated. On one hand, he was an incredible player for two years. On the other hand, it seems like hostility had built up between him and the franchise over his final year with the team when they stripped him of his captain status and converted his salary into a signing bonus, putting him in a difficult position going into a defacto contract season that would be 2021. Could that have contributed to Smith attempting to play on an injured back instead of having surgery in the summer? It’s all water under the bridge now.
Baltimore’s signing of Smith came after edge rusher Chandler Jones signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, largely thought of to be the biggest free-agent signing at the position in this free agency period. Expect the 3-4 outside linebacker market to start heating up in the coming hours. Uchenna Nwosu, who the Packers had reportedly had interest in, signed with the Seattle Seahawks today on a contract that averages $10 million per year.