Packers expecting OLB Preston Smith to be back in 2021

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Zach Kruse
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Either Brian Gutekunst is holding his cards close to his chest, or the Green Bay Packers will be bringing back outside linebacker Preston Smith for the 2021 season.

Gutekunst, the Packers general manager, said Tuesday that he’s expecting to have Smith back despite speculation that the veteran edge rusher could be a cap casualty.

“Preston has played a lot of really good football for us, and certainly we’d like to have him back next year. He’s under contract, so we certainly expect him to be back,” Gutekunst said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Smith, who had only four sacks last season, carries a $16 million cap hit in 2021. The Packers could save $8 million – while carrying $8 million in dead money on the cap – by releasing him.

After delivering 12 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for losses during his debut season with the Packers in 2019, Smith’s numbers dropped to four sacks, 11 quarterback hits and seven tackles for losses in 2020. He played in the same number of games (16) and almost the same number of snaps (870 in 2019, 814 in 2020).

Gutekunst said Smith is still a “good player” with “a lot of good years left,” and he believes the veteran still affected the game in a positive way for the Packers defense in 2020.

Still only 28, Smith is under contract for two more years.

Smith’s total pressures dropped from 55 in 2019 to just 26 in 2020. He also had as many offside penalties as sacks.

The Packers can either stick with him for another year, ensuring the pass-rushing group on the edge remains intact, or move on for the immediate cap savings.

Smith has a $4 million roster bonus due on the third day of the new league year. It’s possible the Packers and Smith could come to terms on a re-negotiated deal that includes some playing and performance incentives, although trimming down from a $16 million cap hit could be difficult.

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