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Za’Darius Smith Was A $66M Bargain

Brian Gutekunst was named GM of the Packers on January 8, 2018. He’s made over 100 personnel moves since that time – some good and some bad. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks counting down his 12-best moves. Here’s No. 1:

While Za’Darius Smith might’ve been the highest-paid of the four free agents signed by Gutekunst on March 13, 2018, he certainly wasn’t the most well-known or accomplished. That’s because the former Kentucky star started only 16 of 64 games for the Ravens and posted fairly pedestrian stats. And while his tape was impressive even to an amateur scout like me, it’s safe to assume nobody expected the 27-year-old to turn in the best season by a Packers’ linebacker since Clay Matthews was named first-team All-Pro in 2010.

Smith’s stats were tremendous (13 1/2 sacks, 67 hurries, 17 tackles for loss), but they don’t tell half the story. The energy and leadership he brought to the field and the locker room was every bit as important. And while he somehow wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl, he was easily one of the five most valuable defensive players in the league. Smith isn’t the fastest or most explosive outside linebacker, but his size and strength allow him to shock and torque lesser tackles off the ground, and his quickness gives him an advantage over most guards and centers. Add in a non-stop motor, and he’s just a very difficult guy to block.

This is Gutekunst’s No. 1 personnel move for two reasons. The first is obvious – Smith is by far the best player he’s acquired since replacing Ted Thompson. The second isn’t quite as obvious. The elite general managers are the ones who can find the special players that their colleagues overlook. Smith is the first such player acquired by Gutekunst. How many more he uncovers will likely determine his fate in Green Bay.

I put all of these individual posts together in one long post. I’d really appreciate it if you would post the link on other forums or message boards you visit. I’d like as many people to read it as possible. Thank you.


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3 Responses “Za’Darius Smith Was A $66M Bargain”

  1. Bryan Johnson
    07/14/2020 at 7:57 am

    It wasn’t just the on field, like you said. He transformed the culture. So many players talked about team and camaraderie – things that Z pushed every day. What an addition!

  2. Michael Rodney
    07/14/2020 at 10:54 am

    It’ll be interesting to see how Z does this season. You can be sure offensive coaches spent the past months trying to figure out ways to slow him down.

  3. Bryan
    07/15/2020 at 5:41 pm

    Agreed. However, the more they focus on him the less they focus on Clark, Smith, Gary, etc. it’s a good problem to have!

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About Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for close to 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2006. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.