In late July, at a time when Packers linebacker Za'Darius Smith was believed to be upset with his restructured contract, the Packers addressed his concerns by restructuring it again.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Packers accelerated $10 million in payments to Smith that applied to the prior conversion of most of his salary to a signing bonus, but that deferred all payments from September through the end of the regular season.
Under the deal as revised in March, $14.76 million of Smith’s 2021 base salary became a signing bonus. Smith was due to receive $5 million of that amount as of Week One of the regular season, with the remaining $9.76 million of the 2021 signing bonus paid out in equal installments with his remaining base salary.
Under the new deal, finalized on July 27, the Packers agreed to pay $10 million of the amount within 10 days, with the remaining $4.76 million paid out over the 18 weeks of the regular season, with his base salary.
G.M. Brian Gutekunst alluded to this revised deal when meeting with reporters on Sunday. “We worked through something earlier to kind of move money around and stuff, earlier like right at the beginning of training camp I believe,” Gutekunst said.
The comment was made in response to questions that Smith’s lingering absence from practice due to injury has a contractual component to it. Gutekunst’s response suggested that the moving of money in late July placated Smith. It’s entirely possible that he’s still unhappy, just less unhappy.
The March restructuring, which the Packers had the contractual right to exercise, pushed Smith’s cap number north of $28 million. Since 2022 will be the last year of his contract and given that his $14.5 million salary for 2022 isn’t guaranteed, the decision to convert so much salary to signing bonus virtually guarantees that Smith will be cut after the 2021 season. While he wasn’t happy with the cash flow (as confirmed by the fact that the Packers changed his contract to improved), he’s still not happy with the fact that he has been made into a lame duck, with no security for 2022.
That’s the fundamental problem. The Packers, by kicking the can in 2021, set the stage for Smith to be kicked out of Green Bay in 2022.