Last year the Packers were a 6-9-1 team. They fired HC Mike McCarthy who was at the helm since 2006. Green Bay ended the season by splitting their final four games under interim HC Joe Philbin. Then the Pack rolled over some key offense pieces by hiring Matt LaFleur as new the HC and Nathaniel Hackett at OC. Green Bay also decided to keep DC Mike Pettine who spent just one season with the team. This was despite his defense giving up 22nd most rushing yards on the season and 22nd most points per game. They showed a lot of patience by sticking with Pettine.
Ironically, the usually quiet Packers made three moves to kick off free agency. The brought in three players to bolster their 3-4 base. All of them came with four years of experience at the NFL level in 3-4 defenses. All the moves made a ton sense and it is highly likely that Pettine had a big say in them. The brought in DE/OLB Za’Darius Smith formerly of the Ravens, OLB Preston Smith formerly of the Redskins and FS Adrian Amos from NFC North rival Chicago.
Za’Darius Smith – 6’4”/272 – 26 years old – 18.5 career sack – 4 years $66M
Smith had an encouraging rookie season with 5.5 sacks, seven TFLs and 30 total tackles as a situational player (38.1% snap share). Unfortunately, he would get just 44 tackles, 4.5 sacks and seven TFLs over the next two seasons. He got a chance to fully blossom in year number four. The Ravens gave him eight starts and a healthy increase in snaps. He responded with 8.5 sacks, 10 TFLs, and 45 total tackles.
Smith will provide versatility and speed to a mostly boring Packers front-seven. His ability to stick his hand in the dirt as well as stand up will be highly useful in the Pettine attack. Smith really holds his own as a 272 pound 3-4 DE. He is able to flash speed/power with his bull rush and fast/active hands. The Pack recently cut Nick Perry (OLB) and both Muhammad Wilkerson (DE) and Clay Matthews (utility LB). Hence, this move to bring in a peaking player like Smith will help.
Smith should also help counter-balance a scheme that saw fourth-year player Kyler Fackrell emerge with 10.5 sacks a year ago. Green Bay also has a true grind at NT in Kenny Clark. The former 2016 first round pick managed 55 total tackles and six sacks despite missing three games.
This deal does feel a little like when Pernell McPhee signed the big contract with Chicago. The four-year vet got a five-year deal worth nearly $40M after a 7.5 sack season. He had 9.5 total sacks in his first three years. McPhee had just 14 sacks in the three years he lasted with the Bears.
Preston Smith – 6’5”/265 – 26 years old – 24.5 career sacks – 4 years $52M
Smith has always been a point contention for me. I feel like Washington should have tried him at DE. Instead he trimmed down to 265 pounds and stood up as an OLB. The kid was a crazy and forceful defensive lineman in college. That being said, Smith played admirably in his position with Washington.
He comes into 2019 having started 48 straight games. As a rookie, he recorded eight sacks, 3 FF, 4 PD, and 30 total tackles. This all happened with Smith getting less than a 50% snap share. He went on to see nearly 70% of the snaps in year two but only totaled 4.5 sacks. He did record two more QB hits than he did in his rookie season. During his third season, Smith got to eight sacks once again. He also set career highs with 42 total tackles 10 TFLs and 21 QB hits. He regressed back down to four sacks in 2018. However, he set a new career in tackles with 53 total tackles and he managed 16 QB hits.
With Green Bay, Smith will likely replace Matthews and 77.1% snap share. Matthews has had just 22.5 sacks since his last double-digit sack season in 2014. The 33-year-old has also not had more than 43 tackles in each of the last three seasons. Smith is definitely an upgrade at this point. He is bigger, faster and much younger. Smith should rush from the left/strong side while Za’Darius Smith will slot in at LDE. Meanwhile, Fackrell and the 294-pound Mike Daniels will patrol and pressure from the right/weak side. This could mean mega IDP seasons for Clark and Blake Martinez in the middle.
Adrian Amos – 6’0”/214 – 26 years old – 67.3 tackles per season – 4 years $37M
As a rookie, Amos was entrusted to play 99.7% of the defensive snaps for Chicago. He recorded 67 total tackles for the 6-10 Bears. In year two he saw an 87.3% snap share. The regression was mainly due to him missing a game and most of another with an injury. His missed three more games and six starts during his third season. He still managed to make 67 total tackles. In 2018, he ramped up his snap percentage to a cool 97.7%. He also set career highs with 73 total tackles and nine PD. He also recorded an INT and two PD in Chicago’s playoff loss to Philadelphia.
Amos flashed with a 4.56 40-time at the 2015 combine. Yet, he was, surprisingly, the eighth safety drafted. Meanwhile, first rounder Damarious Randall and second rounders Landon Collins (NYG), Jaquiski Tartt (SFO) and Jordan Richards (NWE) were getting all the hype.
After trading away starter Haha Clinton-Dix last season, the Packers were forced to use CB Tramon Williams at FS. There was hope that Josh Jones was athletic enough to fill that role. Unfortunately, that was not the case. So, Amos fills a huge need and this is a well-deserved payday for the underrated former 5th round pick. The fact that Amos has started 56 of 60 career games and that he has four years of experience within the division is enormous. His past 3-4 exploits should make for a smooth transition into the Pettine scheme. Kentrell Brice (67% snap share in 2018) and Josh Jones (47% snap share in 2018) are expected to share duties once at SS. That should leave things free and clear for Amos at FS, especially considering Green Bay has no one else on the roster with legitimate FS snaps.