The Green Bay Packers released outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, clearing a massive chunk of salary cap space but removing an impact pass-rusher from Brian Gutekunst’s roster.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the news Monday.
Smith, a two-time Pro Bowler and a first-time All-Pro in 2020, had a cap number of $27.7 million entering the 2022 season. Releasing Smith clears almost $15.3 million from the Packers cap but adds almost $12.4 million in dead money.
Smith, who turns 30 in September, missed all but one game in 2021 while dealing with a back injury that eventually required surgery.
A prized free-agent signing in 2019, Smith delivered 26.0 sacks, 144 total pressures and 60 quarterback hits during his first two seasons in Green Bay. He led all players in total pressures in 2019, and he produced at least 12.5 sacks in both seasons.
Smith’s cap number was the second-highest on the Packers roster behind only Aaron Rodgers.
Releasing Smith creates a need at edge rusher for the Packers, even with Preston Smith and Rashan Gary on the roster. Finding a third rusher or long-term sidekick for Gary could become a priority for the Packers this offseason, either through free agency or the draft.
Even though he’s coming off a major injury, Smith is expected to be a coveted player on the open market.