When the Green Bay Packers signed Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith back in 2019, the hope was that they would be unstoppable on opposite sides of the defensive front. In their first year together, they both dominated. Preston Smith racked up 12 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, and 55 quarterback pressures in his first season with the Packers. Za’Darius Smith was a monster as well.
Last year Za’Darius Smith held up his end of the bargain. Preston Smith did not.
No. 91 played in all 16 games but lost his starting job to Rashan Gary near the end of the season. He had 12 sacks in 2019 and only four last year, and his pressures dropped from 55 to 26. Preston Smith looked out of shape and wasn’t nearly as productive. This year he was slimmer entering camp. With some significant incentives, he’s a prime bounce-back candidate this year.
Preston Smith received an equal amount of praise in 2019 as he did gripes in 2020. His lack of success a year ago didn’t escape notice by the Packers’ front office, either. They reworked his contract, slashing it in half for this upcoming season, from $16 million a year ago to $8.7 million.
While competition can bring out the best in some, so can the incentive of being paid more for producing on the field. And Preston Smith’s contract is peppered with sack-total incentives, as noted by Sportrac. Here’s the breakdown for Preston in 2021:
That’s a large chunk of change if he can get back to 2019 form. If money is a factor, he’ll have a lot to play for this year.
Rashan Gary was splendid last year. Preston Smith, not so much. The competition for snaps should fuel Smith this year. There’s no guarantee he starts Week 1. Za’Darius has his spot locked in on one end, but it would be hard not to go with Gary on the other side to start the season. That could leave Preston out of the loop initially.
Still, there’s no doubting Preston will see plenty of playing time one way or another. But that ego check can be huge for the psyche. He can either fold it up and sulk about the situation or attack it with a relentless approach starting in training camp. Apparently, Preston is already champing at the bit, showing up to offseason workouts in great shape. That’s what linebackers coach Mike Smith has seen so far.
“He does look a lot leaner than he did coming in last training camp. But no, there wasn’t as much (of an emphasis)…Those guys know how I feel about training. To me, that’s the edge and that’s the secret. Guys get tired, and you get into the fourth quarter, they’re eventually going to give up. The better shape we’re in, we can go all game, and it’s better for us. Those guys know. So, I’m sure Preston is training his butt off, which you can tell when he came in.”
Preston Smith being in better shape and ready to go is a win-win for both sides.
There’s a third ingredient to his potential bounce-back: outside noise.
Whether or not athletes want to admit it, most players are somewhat aware of the commentary about them. If money is part of the push for Preston Smith this year and the lack of a guarantee that he’ll start is another, sprinkle on the Twitter trolls who feasted this past season on a less-than-stellar year for No. 91. His own tweets would make it seem as though he’s well aware of the nonsense.
Preston fired off that last tweet a day after he agreed to restructure his deal.
No athlete wants to give attention to internet trolls, but they can be a factor. If Preston Smith gets extra pep in his step by shutting up some people along the way, 2021 could be one scary season for the players who line up opposite him.
There’s no doubt last year was deflating for Preston Smith. Now he’s on a restructured deal, taking 50% less than what he was supposed to be owed. He will be battling with Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, and potentially other players for snaps. He has heavy incentives laced throughout his contract to gobble up as many sacks as he can.
The table is set for Preston Smith to have a rebound season. It started with him showing up in excellent shape. Now he can go out and shut up all the naysayers while regaining that 2019 form with a smile on his face.