Packers Sign Free Agent OLB Za'Darius Smith


The Packers will reportedly sign edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport first broke the news early this morning.

Smith, a 26-year old former fourth-round pick, had 8.5 sacks with the Baltimore Ravens last year.

The contract:

To be determined.

Why they made the move:

In four seasons, Smith has been productive as a pass rusher, although he hasn’t put up elite raw numbers. His career production ratio of .72 is a little lower than we like to see from contract-worthy pass rushers, but it makes sense when you look at where Smith tends to rush from.

A cursory look at some of his sacks in 2018 shows a more traditional, hand-on-the-ground pass rusher than the stand-up edge type Packers fans have become accustomed to seeing in a 3-4 scheme.

Rushing this way isn’t necessarily better or worse than any other style; it’s just worth keeping in mind as we think about ways the Packers could use him.

Digging beyond Smith’s raw numbers, Pro Football Focus points out that Smith has gotten to the QB more and more regularly over the course of his career. He was their 33rd-ranked edge defender last season and their most underrated free agent prospect.

What it means for the Packers:

The Packers had a clear need on the edge. They still do, but in the short term, Smith softens their need to pursue that position hard in the draft.

Mike Pettine has repeatedly said he doesn’t necessarily need an elite edge rusher to make his defense work. That may be true, but having high-end pass rushing talent never hurts. Smith may not be a truly elite edge rusher, but he was more productive in 2018 than just about anybody on the Packers.

The big consideration here is how this could affect the Packers’ free agent decisions. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry both have very questionable futures in Green Bay. Adding Smith to the mix allows the Packers to take a less need-based look at their outside linebacker group.

Grade the move: C

A C, you say? Yep. Every free agent signing is a C until proven otherwise. There are too many variables to grade this move as anything other than completely middle of the road right now. It’s true of Smith and it’ll be true of anyone else the Packers sign.

Blue 58 host Jon Meerdink's thoughts:

The grade may be a C, but it’s hard to not applaud the Packers for pursuing defensive help. Smith projects as a versatile defender in Pettine’s variable scheme. We pegged versatility as the most important attribute for the Packers to pursue in free agency. Smith fits the bill there.