Za’Darius Smith could give Jaguars another pass-rush option if released

Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith (55). Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith (55). Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Even though the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense played at a dominant level at times in 2021, they were inconsistent and ranked near the cellar of the NFL when it came to sacks. If they want to get to the quarterback more often in 2022, they will need to improve their pass rush. If the Green Bay Packers release outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, the Jags should make a bid for his services.

Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network reports that the Packers could “move on” from Smith this offseason. Green Bay is currently $29 million over the cap so it’s not surprising to see them shed a few deals and restructure others. So far, general manager Brian Gutekunst has tweaked the contracts of defensive tackle Kenny Clark, running back Aaron Jones, and offensive tackle David Bakhtiari. All in all, the Packers have cleared $23.8 million in cap space but more moves will come, including the release of Smith to get out of the red.

Keep in mind that Smith was a productive player in the first two seasons of the four-year contract he signed in 2019, logging 107 total tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, and five forced fumbles. Moreover, he made the Pro Bowl in back-to-back years. However, a back injury limited him to one game in 2021. Releasing him this offseason would leave the Packers with $12.38 million in dead money but it would also free up $15.281 million in cap room, which they are in dire need of.

Za’Darius Smith would bolster the Jaguars’ pass rush in free agency.

Chandler Jones, Von Miller, and Harold Landry (if available) will be the top edge defenders in free agency but all of them would command a salary in the $17/20 million range. Although the Jags can easily fit any of them in their salary cap, it’s uncertain how much the front office wants to commit to the position.

On the other hand, Za’Darius Smith would be a solid addition to the Jaguars’ front seven if he can return to Pro-Bowl shape. It’s uncertain what kind of salary he’s looking for but the fact that he’s coming off a season-ending injury may force him to accept a reduced salary. This doesn’t mean he will sign a $5 million deal but it might be less than the ones Jones, MIller, and Landry could get.

Also, the Jaguars must take into account the 2022 NFL Draft. If they plan to take a pass rusher at No.1, it wouldn’t make much sense to devote cap space to an edge defender in free agency. It might be too early to tell who will be the pick at No. 1 but if Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is the early favorite, the team’s brass may be better off addressing other positional needs in free agency.

The bottom line is that the Jaguars need to get a pass rusher opposite outside linebacker Josh Allen. It will be up to the front office to decide if Smith could be the one. Of course, they first have to wait for the Packers to make a decision on him.

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