The Green Bay Packers are notoriously a ho-hum team when it comes to free agency. Every now and then, the team signs a Reggie White, a Charles Woodson, or a Julius Peppers to uplift their defense. But traditionally, while other teams throw piles of money at big-name players, the Packers focus on their own players.
In 2019, Brian Gutekunst’s second year as general manager, the Packers broke tradition with a rare spending spree. The Packers remade their lackluster pass-rush with Smiths Preston and Za’Darius, brought in Adrian Amos from the rival Bears, and signed versatile lineman Billy Turner.
Amazingly, all four players are still with the team going into 2021 and play major roles for the team. Going into the 2021 season, how is the current outlook into this splash free agency class?
The Z of the Smith brothers goes down as one of the best free-agent acquisitions in Packers’ history. Despite receiving little attention outside of Packer media, Smith emerged as one of the best edge rushers in the league. And the aforementioned lack of attention only drives him to greater heights.
With 26 sacks, Z. Smith holds the Packers’ record for most sacks in the first two seasons with the team. Along with his four forced fumbles in 2020, Smith is a wrecking ball of destruction for the Green and Gold. Z has become a fan favorite in his time in Wisconsin and expressed his desire to be a Packer for life. A prime candidate for an extension, he may get his wish.
While his non-biological brother continued his ascension, Preston Smith regressed heavily. His sack total dropped from 12 in 2019 to just four in 2020. While sacks aren’t the be-all-end-all of pass-rushing stats, P. Smith simply wasn’t as disruptive in 2020. He appeared heavier than the 2019 version and was often thrown into bizarre coverage situations.
Preston seemed a prime cut-candidate for the cash-strapped Packers, but the team reworked his contract this offseason. Smith looked leaner in minicamp, and a new defensive scheme might be just the thing to bring him back to his 2019 self. While he may lose snaps to the ascending Rashan Gary, Smith looks to play an important role in 2021. A team can never have too many skilled pass-rushers.
Bears fans mocked the Packers for swapping out HaHa Clinton-Dix for Adrian Amos, claiming Amos was just a product of Eddie Jackson’s superiority. Like many takes from Bears fans, it didn’t age well.
Amos doesn’t get many splash plays that pop on highlight reels (read interceptions) but is one of the most steady and reliable safeties in the NFL. Amos sits at nine on PFF’s top safeties going into 2021. Amos is almost always where he needs to be and particularly adroit at pass breakups. With the rise of his teammate Darnell Savage, the Packers may have one of the best safety tandems in the league.
Amos especially comes to play against his former team, the Chicago Bears, with vital interceptions in multiple showdowns.
Of the 2019 free agents, Turner was perhaps the most surprising. A solid if underwhelming player in his time in Denver, the Packers gave Turner a hefty contract to solve their right guard woes. But in his time with the team, Turner has more than earned his money, becoming one of the most versatile linemen on the team and vital to the unit’s success.
Turner was a solid guard in 2019 but really showed up to play in 2020 as the team’s primary right tackle. He didn’t fair well against the elite defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but was excellent against many other dominant edge defenders. He was asked to switch positions multiple times to contend with injuries and did so with aplomb. Turner also became an important locker room figure and is one of the team’s most outspoken and wise leaders in social justice matters off of the field.
Turner likely is the starting right tackle again in 2021, as the Packers have invested a lot of bodies into the interior line. Still, wherever Turner plays, he’s proven he can get the job done.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.