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If released by the Packers, could Za’Darius Smith return to the Ravens?

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NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

With free agency just around the corner, teams around the NFL will begin making moves to free up cap space, and in the case of the Green Bay Packers, to get under the cap.

According to overthecap.com, the Packers are currently $45.8 million over the cap after placing the franchise tag on All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams. Unless a deal is reached between the two parties, the star receiver will have a cap hit of $20.1 million this season under the tag.

This means that Green Bay will have to find ways to free up some much-needed cap space. One of the most likely paths for the Packers to take is to cut outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. The 2020 All-Pro edge rusher is coming off a season in which he only played in two games, including the playoffs, due to a lingering back injury. With a current cap hit of $27.7 million this season with $15.75 million in savings if cut and set to turn 30-years old in September, it makes sense for Green Bay to move on.

Smith started his career with the Baltimore Ravens after being selected out of Kentucky with the No. 122 overall pick in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. After spending four seasons with the Ravens and racking up 18.5 sacks, Smith was rewarded handsomely in free agency by the Packers with a four-year, $66 million contract.

What initially seemed like an overpay turned out to be a smart investment from the Packers as Smith went on to record 26 sacks over the next two seasons, earning second-team All-Pro honors in 2020 and making the Pro Bowl in both years. With his time in Wisconsin potentially coming to an end, could Smith return to his original NFL home in Maryland?

Baltimore will likely need to add another edge rusher this offseason, whether via free agency or through the draft. Veteran Justin Houston is set to hit the open market and Tyus Bowser is recovering from tearing his Achilles in the final game of the season. The Ravens will have to free up cap space in order to sign a player of Smith’s caliber, but a multitude of moves are possible to do so.

It is unknown what Smith’s market will be if released, but PFF has projected contracts for other top edge rushers expected to hit the open market next week. Among those at the position over 30-years old include Von Miller with a projected two-year, $34 million deal, Chandler Jones with a two-year $33.5 million deal, Melvin Ingram with a one-year $8 million deal, Houston with a one-year, $7 million deal, Jerry Hughes with a one-year, $6.5 million deal, and Jason Pierre-Paul with a one-year, $7 million deal.

Players right around Smith’s age include Emmanuel Ogbah with a projected three-year, $46.5 million deal, Randy Gregory with a two-year, $12.5 million deal, and Jadeveon Clowney with a one-year $15 million deal. Of the three aforementioned players, none have eclipsed double-digit sacks in a single season, which Smith has done twice.

On Monday, Baltimore’s own Jimmy’s Famous Seafood tweeted a picture of Smith in town at their restaurant, leading to speculation among the fanbase regarding a potential homecoming for the star pass rusher.

The Ravens have a bevy of needs to address this offseason, so they will have to decide if they want to make a significant investment like signing Smith, or multiple smaller moves to potentially plug holes on the offensive line, defensive line, and secondary.

Smith would pair nicely with second-year first-round pick Odafe Oweh and could help to provide some much-needed interior pressure with his versatility and ability to rush from the inside on passing downs.