Even with Smith Back, Gary's Playing Time Should Increase

If the Green Bay Packers do keep Preston Smith for the 2021 season, what does that mean for Rashan Gary's playing time moving forward?


As it currently stands, the Green Bay Packers find themselves about $11.5 million over the projected salary cap for the 2021 season. There are several moves that they can make to get under, and one in particular that everyone thought was coming was cutting Preston Smith in favor of $8 million in cap savings.
 
However, when talking with reporters this past week, GM Brian Gutekunst threw a wrench in that plan, saying that he "expects" Smith to be back. Now, does that mean on his current deal with a $16 million cap hit? Will Smith be taking a pay cut? That we don't know, but that also doesn't sound like something Gutey would say if he were going to cut Smith either--we will see.
 
But if Smith is in fact back, much of the focus will remain on the salary cap and Smith bouncing back this season. But what hasn't been mentioned a lot is Rashan Gary and how his playing time will be affected by this move. 
 
During his rookie season in 2019, Gary was brought along slowly as he developed his game, playing in less than 24 percent of Green Bay's total defensive snaps. Then this past year, we saw Gary take that Year 2 leap that so many successful NFL players make. 
 
Including the playoffs, Gary finished with 46 total pressures --the second-most on the team behind only Za'Darius Smith -- and had four separate games with at least five pressures. Of those 46 pressures, five were sacks.
 
Numbers-wise, Gary was the second-best pass rusher on this Green Bay Packers team and even outplayed Za'Darius a few times. League-wide, he was also a top performer when it came to getting after the quarterback. Pro Football Focus ($) has their pass-rush productivity metric, which measures the efficiency of a pass-rusher by taking into account the number of pressures, sacks, and pass-rush attempts. Out of 114 eligible edge rushers in 2020, Gary ranked 15th--ahead of both Preston and Za'Darius. 
 
Yet even with Gary's success, he was the third edge rusher on this team by playing time, and it wasn't particularly close. From Week 10 through the end of the regular season, Gary averaged 35 snaps per game (I excluded Week 14 against Detroit, where Gary left early with an injury). 
 
Preston Smith, on the other hand, averaged about 53 snaps per game during that same stretch. While Gary typically played on average 51.6 percent of the defensive snaps, Smith played almost 78 percent. 
 
At the time, many -- including myself -- clamored for Gary to see more playing time, but by that metric, Smith was still the clear-cut second edge rusher on this team. This then begs the question: how will the Green Bay Packers handle the playing time between these two players in 2021 if Smith is back?
 
If Smith returns -- or at least gets close -- to his 2019 form, then this is a great problem to have. However, if he doesn't, then the Packers need to give Gary the bulk of those snaps--essentially flipping their playing time from a season ago. 
 
This scenario then leads us back to the salary cap, in which Green Bay is taking a rather large cap hit for a third edge rusher. While yes, having a third edge rusher in today's NFL is a must, but for a player who is coming off a down season and comes with a $16 million cap hit? There's obviously a lot of risks involved there.
 
Gary is entering his third NFL season and looks poised to take another step forward. He's an ascending player, and the last thing Green Bay would want to do is block his playing time--especially if Smith continues to struggle.
 
As we wait to see what cap moves are to be made in the coming weeks and what Smith's future with the team is, this is just another wrinkle that has to be considered. With Gary's performance last season, he has earned more playing time; let's hope he gets it. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (35)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
PatrickGB's picture

March 08, 2021 at 11:06 am

I agree. He is starting to play up to his potential. He has been more impactful than Preston even with less snaps.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 08, 2021 at 01:12 pm

You don't draft a guy with a One Pick to be a backup.

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Johnblood27's picture

March 08, 2021 at 10:20 pm

see Love, Jordan...

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HankScorpio's picture

March 09, 2021 at 05:05 am

It's early..

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stockholder's picture

March 08, 2021 at 11:18 am

I would trade Smith and Gary to Dallas. For their first 4 picks.

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Johnblood27's picture

March 08, 2021 at 10:20 pm

I would too.

Even Jerrah isnt that stoopid...

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stockholder's picture

March 09, 2021 at 07:21 am

Dallas needs Defense. 1. why cut P.Smith when you can trade him. 2. You give them Gary for insurance and both can instantly improve their defense. 3. Returns- Dallas picks 1-4 are 10,44,75,99. (in addition to ares.) Breaking that down. Thats 7 picks in the top 100 of the draft. Gary was a 12. Look what your getting back. Gute then can have 7 players sit the bench. Or he changes the defense for the next 10 years. Your pushing Gary for playing time? But- Your freeing up money to Sign NY's FA DT (That could replace Gary.) Pettine left. Gary could regress.

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Lphill's picture

March 08, 2021 at 11:38 am

Packers in trade talks now for Preston Smith. As per nfl. Com

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Guam's picture

March 08, 2021 at 11:51 am

Makes sense to try to get something for him rather than zip when you cut him.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

March 08, 2021 at 12:36 pm

Part of me wonders if this is part of the game to get Preston to renegotiate. Preston can do things that Z and Gary can't do.

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PeteK's picture

March 08, 2021 at 03:55 pm

Yeah, let linemen block you. LOL

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ricky's picture

March 08, 2021 at 11:44 am

Isn't Gary a bust? That was the consensus after his first year. Just like that loser Davante Adams after a down second year. Clearly, the team needs to listen to the fans more closely.

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Guam's picture

March 08, 2021 at 11:55 am

I wouldn't say the Gute threw a wrench into the works by stating he expects Preston back. Gute can't say anything else if he is trying to trade Preston. That is simply GM speak which will continue until Preston is traded, cut or renegotiates his deal. BTW a trade would work well for both teams - the Packers get a draft choice or player in return and the other team gets a reduced cost Preston because they only have to pay his salary, not the amortized portion of his signing bonus (that stays with the Pack).

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PF4L's picture

March 08, 2021 at 01:59 pm

Good call Guam!!

It's nice to see we have someone here who can think in layers.

No offence surface dwellers. STAY THIRSTY

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TarynsEyes's picture

March 08, 2021 at 12:00 pm

The very reason why Preston should be gone. Gary should have made Smith expendable in the eyes and minds of the FO. Retaining Preston says he hasn't and the FO doesn't believe it. I know depth, but Preston is a depth player they can't afford.

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HankScorpio's picture

March 09, 2021 at 05:23 am

I don't know that we can draw any conclusions about what the FO believes until the rubber hits the road. They have yet to pay Preston Smith any of the $12 mil he is due this year. Words at a presser do not equal instructing accounting to make a payment transfer. Last time I was pushing that line, it was on Jimmy Graham, who they did end up retaining. It was a mistake then and it would be a mistake now, IMO.

The dead money hit on Smith would be $8 mil. If they can talk him down to a 2/3 pay cut they are at that number with him. But I doubt he'd accept that as much as I doubt another team would accept $12 mil in cash outlay for Smith in trade.

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Archie's picture

March 08, 2021 at 01:21 pm

No way does the Pack pay $16MM this year for P Smith's productivity from last year. No way.

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packer132's picture

March 08, 2021 at 03:39 pm

That's why Preston will be cut, restructured, or traded. My bet is cut, as no team is going to want to take on his salary.

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PeteK's picture

March 08, 2021 at 04:19 pm

8 mill for one year might not be that much for a player with a solid pass rusher history. 3rd rounder would be good, 2nd fantastic.

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HankScorpio's picture

March 09, 2021 at 05:22 am

It's $12 mil. He's got a roster bonus & workout bonus due, in addition to his salary

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Stroh's picture

March 09, 2021 at 10:54 pm

But thats not his salary. As was noted just up the comments the team that trades for him pays much less. His base salary is only 6.85M plus game bonus totaling 500K. He has 4.5M in roster bonus coming due soon. If the Packers pay that then trade him the team that gets him is paying less than 7.5M. It helps to read

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Matt Gonzales's picture

March 09, 2021 at 07:51 am

They're not. They're paying $12MM - the rest is prorated signing bonus. If he accepts a pay cut you have to add $4MM to that salary for his cap number to account for the prorated signing bonus. You cut him or trade him, and this year you eat $8MM you already paid him, and then you still need another edge rusher who can play week 1 because there really isn't anyone behind Gary and the Smith's, and Z and Gary can't play 100% of the snaps.

The ideal solution would be if he were willing to bring his salary down to around $8MM, giving him a $12MM cap number for this year. If you restructure him, turning part of his salary this year into signing bonus, then the hit next year balloons unless they add additional years to his contract.

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Since'61's picture

March 08, 2021 at 01:24 pm

If Gary gets more snaps, which he should, he can become a player who can wreck a game. Even with limited playing time he was having an increasing impact nearly every week during the 2020 season.

Maybe the Packers plan was to showcase Smith with more snaps to generate interest in him for trading purposes. Trade Smith for an experienced OL, or CB, or DL and move Gary into a full time role. That’s a better option than releasing or overpaying him.

Moving Gary into a full time role is one move among several others which can improve our defense in 2021.
Thanks, Since ‘61

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PF4L's picture

March 08, 2021 at 02:10 pm

Since 61...

I want nothing more than to see Gary get a chance playing full time as a starter. His draft position demands it.

But....Nobody proves themselves, until they prove themselves. Lets see Gary full time, and then crown home after he wrecks games.

Remember a QB after being drafted, talking to his team on the phone?
Telling that team that picked him.." Lets wreck this league!"

Johnny Clipboard!!

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PF4L's picture

March 08, 2021 at 01:55 pm

This is maybe why you don't sign 2 free agent edge rushers to contracts over 100 million.
Then draft a Def. end with the 12th pick in the draft to convert to an edge rushing linebacker.
.
It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make any more sense today.
.
Call me loopy...but shouldn't the 12th pick of the draft be a starter in his 1st year? His 2nd year?
How about year #3?
.
But...as Leatherhead keeps preaching.....Gute knows what he is doing.
Want proof?
Gute traded up to draft Jordan Love. Using a 1st and a 4th round draft pick for a bench player to sit for 3-4 years.
What more proof than that do you need?

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flackcatcher's picture

March 08, 2021 at 04:12 pm

What happened. Gute screwed up your fantasy board.

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PeteK's picture

March 08, 2021 at 04:13 pm

Who cares Loopy , it's water under the bridge , he's good now and either item didn't cause a miss to the SB.

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fastmoving's picture

March 08, 2021 at 04:31 pm

Everyone who looks some football and had some brains as well knows Gute does a smart job. You right about that and we all know.
Of course the Love pick was a no brainer and just the neandertaler dont understand, like always. Their time is long gone and here flatearth is crashing down, so they do the only thing they do.....complain.
But when it makes no sense for them, weak and orange as they are, it must be 100 percent wrong. They the living contra indiction and all so is all more than good in America and at our PACK.
Great leadership, great coach. Lombardi would be proud as hell. We got all the proof Gute, MLF and MM are the best at here jobs. Just great.

BTW great ring on your pic, where did you get that one?? You see me impressed.....

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PeteK's picture

March 08, 2021 at 05:31 pm

Whew, my head's spinning too fast after reading that.

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HankScorpio's picture

March 09, 2021 at 05:31 am

"This is maybe why you don't sign 2 free agent edge rushers to contracts over 100 million.
Then draft a Def. end with the 12th pick in the draft to convert to an edge rushing linebacker."

Why not? Between Z and Preston, you have a bridge to when Gary can become a productive football player. You get to keep the one that is more worth the price once that happens (ie now). In this case, that turns out to be Z. But you never know what the future holds. It might have been Preston for all you knew at the time.

Yes, you get a dead money hit on the contract you dump. So what? You got both Smiths at a huge bargain in year 1 and about the right price in year 2.

All in all, it's a win. I'm not exactly the leader of the Gute fan club but it seems to me he got this one right. They had a screaming need for edge rush, which is very important. They addressed it immediately and for the future with those 3 additions.

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PF4L's picture

March 10, 2021 at 06:10 am

I'm not so sure i'd call 12 sacks, 36 solo tackles and 1 FF a huge bargain for 18 million in Preston's first season.
A bargain would be at 7 or 8 million.

In 2 years Preston has made 27.5 million for 16 sacks, 65 solo tackles, 1 FF and 1 pick.

For some reason, i don't see a positive ROI.
But if you feel he earned that 27 million, then God bless you

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HankScorpio's picture

March 10, 2021 at 11:32 pm

I mean cap money. The Packers have more cash than they know what to do with. It's not a concern of mine. Just cap hits.

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PF4L's picture

March 11, 2021 at 06:34 pm

You didn't address anything i said.

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SwedeBayPacker's picture

March 08, 2021 at 05:35 pm

Whatever happens, just glad to see Gary get more snaps. I'm rooting for the kid.

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tchicomen's picture

March 14, 2021 at 11:05 pm

Quel game GARY QUI optien un peu de gloire https://gouttierelaurentides.ca

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