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Green Bay Packers release Pro Bowl edge rusher Za’Darius Smith

Matt Johnson

The Green Bay Packers are releasing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, cutting ties with one of their top defensive players before NFL free agency begins.

Smith, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, missed a majority of the 2021 season with a back injury. He dealt with the issue throughout training camp last year, playing just 16 snaps in Week 1 before landing on injured reserve.

Green Bay activated the 6-foot-4 edge rusher before the NFL Divisional Round game against the San Francisco 49ers. Fully healthy, he recorded one sack and one quarterback hit. Following the loss, Smith seemingly acknowledged his time in Green Bay was over.

  • Za’Darius Smith stats (2019-’20): 60 quarterback hits, 29 TFLs, 26 sacks in 32 games

Originally signed to a four-year, $66 million extension in March 2020, Smith blossomed into a star with the Packers. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons and earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2020.

Related: 2022 Green Bay Packers mock draft

Cutting Smith creates $15.281 million in cap space, per OvertheCap.com. It still leaves Green Bay $30.5 million over the 2022 salary cap. However, long-term extensions for Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Preston Smith and Jaire Alexander would make the Packers cap compliant.

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Following the departure of Za’Darius Smith, the Packers will likely target an edge rusher with one of their top picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.