GREEN BAY, Wis. – After going from 12 sacks in 2019 to just four sacks in 2020, the Green Bay Packers slashed away at Preston Smith’s contract.
In the original contract signed as part of Green Bay’s big free-agent haul in 2019, Smith was due to earn a $6.85 million base salary, a $4 million roster bonus, and other bonus money to push the cash value to $12 million. In the revamped contract, he was given a $1 million base salary, $6.25 million signing bonus and additional bonus money to push the value to $8 million.
As part of that restructure, Smith was given heavy incentives that would allow him to recoup his money.
With a modest six sacks, Smith would earn $500,000. With eight sacks, he’d earn an additional $750,000 to increase the total to $1.25 million. With 10 sacks, he’d earn another $750,000 to bring the total to $2 million. With 12 sacks – Smith’s career-high figure in his debut season with Green Bay – he’d pocket another $1.2 million to push the total to $3.2 million. Finally, with a career-high 14 sacks, Smith would pocket another $1.2 million to max out at $4.4 million.
“That’s the first time it’s being brought to my attention since early in the offseason,” Smith said after Monday’s practice. “You don’t really think about that. My job is to go out there and be the Preston Smith I know I can be. High production. High energy. Making plays. Causing havoc for other offenses. Doing my part for my team. Making sure I have a lot of productivity for myself. I don’t focus on what I’ve got to do to get this because, if you handle your business, the money’s going to come. That’s what I tell guys. If you handle your business, the money’s going to come. Even on my rookie deal, I didn’t worry about it because I handled my business and the money came. If I handle my business again, more money will come.”
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Smith was a major disappointment last season, not just sacks but pressures. On Monday, he blamed it on his role in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. In 2019, Kyler Fackrell was the outside linebacker asked to drop into coverage. In 2020, with Fackrell having signed with the Giants, Smith said that chore fell on his plate.
In reality, Smith dropped into coverage on 23.9 percent of the passing snaps in 2019 and 21.7 percent in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus. So, in reality, he dropped into coverage less frequently. However, in the first three games of last season, Smith dropped 39 times compared to rushing 66 times. That’s 37.1 percent to start last season compared to 29.3 percent to start 2019. Perhaps spending so much time going in reverse played a role in Smith collecting just one-half sack in the first eight games.
Smith believes he’ll be put to better use under new coordinator Joe Barry, for whom he played in Washington.
“Joe’s defense is pretty (good) for everybody to be good,” Smith said. “I feel like there’s a lot of opportunities to be great this season and return to the form of 2019 and go out there and have high productivity and make sure I’m doing my part for the team. I feel like a lot of guys are going to shine in Joe’s system. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to put his playmakers in position to make plays. That’s why I love him so much.”
The restructure took Smith’s cap number from $16 million to just about $8.75 million. Smith could have rejected the contract offer and become a free agent. Instead, after back-to-back losses in the NFC Championship Game, Smith said he returned to complete some unfinished business.
“We came so close this past year and each year, the year before,” he said. “We’ve been to two NFC championships. This is the farthest I’ve ever been in my career and I’ve been there twice – back-to-back years. I believe what we’ve got going around here. There’s a lot of great guys, a lot of guys returned. Everybody here believes the same thing: We can do it. We have a chance to do it. We came close twice and last year, I don’t make the calls but we have a chance to be in the big show. We know once we fix those little things like we did week in and week out from the year before, we can possibly be in the big dance.”