Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos to join Green Bay in free agency

Za'Darius Smith, Adrian Amos to join Green Bay in free agency

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Ryan Wood and Olivia Reiner discuss potential targets for the Packers in free agency.
Olivia Reiner, PackersNews

GREEN BAY – Waiting until the first wave of free agency rolled through the NFL on Monday, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst jumped in with both feet, signing three potential starters on defense and one on offense.

Edge rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and Chicago safety Adrian Amos all agreed to terms on contracts with the Packers on Tuesday morning, NFL sources confirmed Tuesday morning.

Gutekunst later added Denver guard/tackle Billy Turner, a source told PackersNews.com

Terms of the deals were not revealed and the earliest they can be signed is Wednesday at 3 p.m. when free agency officially begins. Since noon Monday, teams have been able to negotiate deals with free agents in what has been deemed the “legal tampering” period.

ESPN.com was the first to report the Preston Smith agreement and NFL Network was the first to report the other two.

The most celebrated of the signings is Washington’s Preston Smith, although he didn’t have a particularly great year in 2018. In his first three seasons, he had 20 1/2 sacks, but last year he managed just four.

He ranked second on the team in total quarterback hits (knockdowns and sacks) with 16 and had an interception and three pass break-ups.

The 2015 second-round pick had 8 sacks as a rookie in 2015, 4 1/2 his second year and eight his third year. He has four career interceptions and four forced fumbles.

“Good player,” said an NFC personnel director. “He will help them. Rushes with power and stout vs. the run. Good edge player. Reliable and dependable. Has upside to develop as a rusher as well. Good pickup.”

Another scout described him as a “great locker room guy.”

Gutekunst definitely went into free agency looking to move on from Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, who have been their edge players for the past seven years. Last year, they combined for five sacks, which wasn’t good enough.

Perry, who is due a $4.8 million bonus on Saturday, won’t return. The Packers will gain $3.6 million in salary cap space by moving on from him.

Matthews is an unrestricted free agent and it seems unlikely that he will be re-signed..

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Preston Smith will be a starter on the outside, probably with Kyler Fackrell manning the opposite outside linebacker position. Chances are Za’Darius Smith will be more of a nickel rusher who can rush both from inside and outside.

Za’Darius Smith, 26, bounced back from a pair of unremarkable seasons to finish with 8½ sacks for the Ravens in a contract year. The 2015 fourth-round selection had 5½ sacks his rookie year but just 4½ the next two.

In 2018, he had a breakout season, leading the Ravens in sacks, quarterback hits (25, including sacks) and finishing second in tackles for loss (10). He finished tied for sixth in tackles.

The Packers need the 6-4, 274-pound Smith to be more than just a pass rusher, although hitting quarterbacks will be his No. 1 duty. At the combine four years ago, he ran an impressive 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds and benched 225 pounds 23 times.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will have to find out whether Smith can help him at outside linebacker or simply as an edge rusher in nickel situations. Smith was a defensive end in college at Kentucky.

The signing means that Gutekunst doesn’t necessarily have to draft an edge rusher with the No. 12 pick in the 2019 draft. It’s very possible there will be a pass rusher available at that pick and Gutekunst probably wouldn’t pass on him, but he has the option of taking the best player available and waiting until later to take another pass rusher.

Edge players have been in high demand since the start of the free agency negotiating period started Monday.

Among those who have agreed to terms are New England’s Trey Flowers ($17 million per year), Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander ($13.5 million), Los Angeles Rams’ Dante Fowler ($14 million)

In Amos, the Packers are getting a mid-level starter who started all 16 games last year and had 73 tackles, a sack and two interceptions. He also had nine pass break-ups and a forced fumble.

At the combine in 2015, the 6-foot, 218-pound Amos ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and registered a 35½ -inch vertical leap.

Amos, a fifth-round pick, played second fiddle to safety Eddie Jackson on the Bears’ outstanding defense. Jackson made more big plays than Amos, who in four years has just three interceptions.

The Packers will expect him to start, but they are still going to have to make another move at the position because they do not have an established ballhawk in the deep middle. It’s possible they’ll move cornerback Josh Jackson to safety, but he would need a lot of training.

It’s unclear whether the Packers have submitted a restricted free agent tender on safety Kentrell Brice, who has battled ankle injuries the last two seasons. Brice would make $2.025 million if the tender is made and so with this signing it’s possible the Packers will take a pass.

Josh Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, remains an option at safety, too. Pettine also could keep cornerback Tramon Williams at safety after the veteran bailed him out last year when injuries struck the position.

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