What the Joe Barry Hire Means for Preston Smith

Joe Barry and Preston Smith coulb be reunited for the first time since 2016.

Most Packers fans have latched onto the notion that Preston Smith won’t be back next season. No one can dispute his regression, however, he has just been reunited with his former defensive coordinator Joe Barry. There’s a chance Barry could find ways to get Smith back to his 2019 form, which could entail dropping into coverage less often.

Barry coached Smith when he served as the Washington Football Team defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2016. It was Smith’s first two years in the league and you make a case that Barry helped him develop into the player he is today. Interpret that however you please.

Fans will find some satisfaction in the way Barry utilized Smith during those two years. Smith didn’t drop into coverage nearly as much in Washington as he has done in Green Bay.

A lot of people were frustrated with the number of times Smith dropped into coverage this past season. However, it was actually close to the same rate as the year before. Actually, it was less. In 2019, Smith spent 15 percent of his snaps in coverage. This season that number dropped to 13.6. Under Barry, it was much less.

In 2015, Smith spent only three percent of his snaps in coverage, which is understandable for not wanting to put too much on a rookie’s plate. The following year, his second in the NFL, Smith dropped back on just six percent of his reps. So, Packers fans can at least find some solace in the possibility of Smith playing fewer snaps in coverage. However, that is contingent on him being with the team for the 2021 season.

Smith didn’t play like a guy worthy of a $13.5 million cap hit in 2020. He finished with 4.0 sacks, 42 tackles, and 26 pressures. This was after a breakout season in which he posted career-highs in sacks (12.0), tackles (56), tackles for loss (11), QB hits (23), and pressures (55).

You could make a strong argument Smith was a dominant player in 2019 and arguably the second or third best player on the defense. However, Smith fizzled out in an almost unfathomable fashion in 2020. Not only did his numbers take a massive hit, but he genuinely didn’t look like the same player.

Frustration started to boil after Smith experienced a slow start to the 2020 season. An illusion formed where it appeared he was dropping into coverage more frequently, but we’ve uncovered how that wasn’t the case. In fact, Smith played less snaps in coverage this season than he did in 2019. It only felt amplified because he wasn’t doing his job of rushing the passer effectively.

Smith isn’t awful at dropping into coverage, but it definitely isn’t his best skill set. There’s no way Green Bay can pay Smith the $16 million he is due in 2021 and get the same production from last season. Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball now have to approach Smith about a possible restructure. If that doesn’t work, they have to be prepared to cut him loose.

Fans are always quick to part ways with a player, but Smith is only two years removed from a double-digit sack season, and he’s relatively young for an edge rusher at 28 years of age. Smith reuniting with Barry could give him and the team a small reason to want to try and works things out, but it would have to entail a significant pay cut. It’s a long shot, but if it does happen, fans can expect less of Smith in coverage.  

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Comments (25)

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stockholder's picture

February 17, 2021 at 12:13 pm

P. Smith stays. No Argument from me. Re-unions are always positive. I'll bet both Smiths would re-work their contracts to get Watt on board. They came here to win a super-bowl. Not kiss butt.

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Coldworld's picture

February 17, 2021 at 12:33 pm

I still believe that the reason is usage. Pettine himself alluded to differences. Dropping into a coverage role as defined by the stats isn’t necessarily required to change the focus from rush first to rush second. I also note Smith made a number of pass plays at key moments later in the season.

The remaining coaches know if there is truth to my suspicion, but none of us can. That said, even if I’m right and it is the sole reason ( a stretch), I can’t see how we can realistically keep him financially, especially since Gary should increase his snaps.

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Guam's picture

February 17, 2021 at 02:40 pm

Given Gary, the diminished production and the opportunity for $12 million in savings with a June designation, I just don't see how the Packers keep P. Smith in this cap environment. It would have to be one heck of a contract renegotiation to keep him and Preston Smith will have more than a little value in the open market. Too much value for him to take the cut GB would want him to take.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 17, 2021 at 05:46 pm

If they want to move Smith and enhance the Edge with a guy who can also cover, Zaven Collins is the guy at the end of round one. I would still move up into the first for a CB. We will see if Watt can be cajoled to move to Packertown.

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Lare's picture

February 17, 2021 at 01:12 pm

I don't know anything about Joe Barry, but hopefully he can put players in a much better position to succeed than Mike Pettine did.

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TarynsEyes's picture

February 17, 2021 at 01:32 pm

To make the cap adjustments that are mandatory, without the Watt scenario, the FO's confidence in Gary should be enough to release Smith, even if not in a cap hell.

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frankthefork's picture

February 17, 2021 at 01:34 pm

Why pick on just one player for the JB cut list. IMO Lowry, Kirksey , P Smith, King and Jackson are going going gone.

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dobber's picture

February 17, 2021 at 02:00 pm

At this stage, Jackson hasn't done much, but as a guy who plays a money position and has a relatively small contract (the savings are about $1.3M if cut) at a position where the Packers have a definite need, there's not much reason to let him go, yet. Especially with rosters at 90.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 17, 2021 at 05:48 pm

A rookie can replace Jackson or a FA nickel rental for a year. Sullivan is a dime guy. Hollman never seemed to get a look.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

February 17, 2021 at 06:55 pm

I expect they will be playing a lot less man this year. I'd like to see Jackson in zone in camp/preseason. If he doesn't look good they can still cut him during cutdowns for the same savings.

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TarynsEyes's picture

February 17, 2021 at 02:32 pm

Yes, but this is more about position cut and sign. Cut Smith sign Watt. GB isn't keeping both. Keep Smith forget Watt. Yes, others will need to go also, we get that.

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Lphill's picture

February 17, 2021 at 03:49 pm

Kirksey is good at weak side backer he played really well when Pettine finally figured that out no reason to cut him maybe re structure.

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kbrinkmann's picture

February 17, 2021 at 04:00 pm

I would agree if the expectation was Barnes and Martin will be at the same level in year 2 as they were in year 1. Often, especially for a guy like Martin, year 2 is better. Barry's scheme may be simpler for them to grasp as well. It seemed like Pettine wanted Kirksey because of his familiarity with Pettine's system.

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dobber's picture

February 17, 2021 at 04:11 pm

It's a numbers game and you can't keep everyone

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 17, 2021 at 05:50 pm

Re-structure Kirksey. He picked it up in the playoffs. He's a cover LB.

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HawkPacker's picture

February 18, 2021 at 08:41 pm

He was a cover guy at Iowa in College.

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Stroh's picture

February 17, 2021 at 08:08 pm

Smith GETS PICKED on, your words, because of his realky big salary and his diminished production. Isn't that obvious?! Lowry, Kirksey and Jackson added together don't amount to P Smith salary and cap savings

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PackerBacker77's picture

February 17, 2021 at 08:42 pm

Actually they do add up to more than Smith lol

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 18, 2021 at 02:10 am

Check your calculator. They don't add up to more than Smith. It is almost equal, though, both as to combined cap numbers and combined cap savings.

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TXCHEESE's picture

February 17, 2021 at 02:57 pm

It seemed with the structure of the Smith contracts in 2019 and with the drafting of Gary, one of the Smiths was bound to be gone in year 3, and probably planned by the FO. Obviously, if all of them were balling out, the the Packers would need to find some creative ways to keep them, or possibly trade one of them for a mid-low round pick and move on.

Given the way Gary has come on, either P. Smith takes a big pay cut to stay here, or he's as good as gone.

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kbrinkmann's picture

February 17, 2021 at 03:56 pm

Thanks for this post, Brandon. It's nice to see someone going against the common wisdom. So much depends on whether the predicted cap doomsday occurs and whether they want that money to pay Watt. I'm not sure what the advanced stats say (pressures, double teams, QB hits) but it sure seems like Preston has often followed a subpar season with a bounce back year, so far in his career.

In my view, he main reason he could be expendable isn't his dip in production so much as the improvement of Rashan. We'll probably want 52 on the field wrecking havoc as many snaps as possible in 2021.

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NickPerry's picture

February 18, 2021 at 06:17 am

Preston Smith has been a up one year, down the next player his entire career. He never had a season as productive as 2019, but it was the "Odd" year of his career. If you look at his entire career he was going to make a jump in 2019 and a dip in 2020.

I KNOW this sounds ridiculous, but the numbers don't lie. If he'd take some kind of cut, any cut which helps the Packers save money and keep PS, I think it will be worth it.

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Vincenttan56's picture

February 18, 2021 at 06:30 am

Thank you so much for sharing nice information with us.

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jvole's picture

February 18, 2021 at 08:23 am

I thought Smith looked out of shape for the first half of the season. Really, he looked fat and slow. Everyone handles a lack of structure differently and he might just need to be back in a system. But I think he is gone.

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PatrickGB's picture

February 18, 2021 at 01:37 pm

What happens if Z or Gary gets hurt? Then we have a significant problem. Barry is supposed to do well with less talent but if Preston is gone then there is definitely less talent available. Do we really want to take that risk? I get that the cap is going to be tough this year but the drop off is also scary. Is the team willing to risk that is the question. Perhaps a restructuring of his contract makes more sense. Next it seems to me that the team drafts a decent OLB.

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