Grades for Packers early moves in 2019 NFL free agency

The Green Bay Packers are — for a change — making a lot of moves in NFL free agency, signing four players as the offseason opened.

General manager Brian Gutekunst added safety Adrian Amos, pass-rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and offensive lineman Billy Turner.

Of course, we’ll have to wait to see how these moves actually pan out of the Packers, but NFL analysts have some immediate reaction — and grades — to the signings.

More Packers coverage from FOX Sports Wisconsin

(If you’re interested in the contract numbers, here’s the information from OverTheCap.com: Amos | P. Smith | Z. Smith | Turner)

We’ve rounded them up below (for some reason not everyone graded every signing) and accumulated a grade-point average at the bottom. Let’s just say there’s some mixed feelings out there.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com

Adrian Amos: B+. “The 25-year-old Amos has 56 starts in four seasons, and he’s made significant strides the past two seasons. He’s a good player in coverage and he’s a nice tackler in the run game. He’s scheduled to make $37 million over four years, which is a bargain compared to the deal Landon Collins got from the Redskins.”

Preston Smith: A. “… one of the most-underrated players in this class. … In the Packers’ scheme, he will play as a stand-up outside linebacker who coordinator Mike Pettine will love to have. He’s one of those 26-year-old players who is just now reaching his prime years. This is an outstanding signing.”

 

SB Nation

Adrian Amos: B (short term and long term). “Amos is a similar player to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who played well in Wisconsin but ultimately wore out his welcome and was shipped off to Washington. He also excelled under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who tends to get more out of players like Amos than other teams could. There’s a chance Amos’ play slips now that he’s leaving Chicago, but the Packers have to be happy to have filled a need with a young playmaker here.”

Preston Smith: Short term – A; long term – B+. “Looking at the sack totals doesn’t tell the whole story with Preston Smith. He may have only had four sacks in 2018, but this is a guy that can consistently get pressure on the quarterback.”

Za’Darius Smith: Short term – B-; long term – C+. “If Smith can replicate his 2018 breakout season with 8.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits, then this move will be well worth it. There just has to be a small feeling of buyer beware here.”

Billy Turner: B (short term and long term). “One area the Packers had to address this offseason was the offensive line. They got a solid, versatile player in former Dolphins and Broncos offensive linemen Billy Turner.”

 

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com

Adrian Amos: B-. “Amos hasn’t had the sort of breakout, takeaway-laden season that ex-teammates Fuller and Eddie Jackson had in 2018. He hasn’t deflected a million passes or forced a bunch of fumbles. It’s a bit of a surprise to see him earn north of $9 million per year, but he’s a solid, versatile safety who will allow the Packers to disguise more of what they want to do before the snap and give them the flexibility to bring in a more specific sort of free or strong safety if they choose to upgrade at the other spot in the draft. He also doesn’t turn 26 until April, so Green Bay should be getting his peak seasons.”

Preston Smith: C-. “He produced eight sacks on 305 pass-rushing opportunities as a rookie, which seemed to hint that the second-round pick held serious potential as a breakout star. Since then, Smith has been closer to good than great. He has stayed healthy and started 48 games, but he has racked up only 16.5 sacks in the ensuing three seasons across 1,130 pass rushes, which means he has generated sacks nearly half as frequently as he did during that rookie campaign. Smith’s 49 knockdowns over that time suggest a slightly more optimistic approach, given that they would predict a 22-sack total, but Smith’s cumulative three-year production is in the same ballpark with guys like Chris Long, Lorenzo Alexander and longtime Packers stalwart Clay Matthews.”

Za’Darius Smith: D+. “Smith needs to produce 25 sacks over those two seasons to make the math work on this for the Packers, and he hasn’t yet been at that level as a pro.”

“I understand the desire to move on from disappointing veterans and upgrade the edge rush, and there’s certainly upside here, given that both Smiths are 26. At the same time, though, the Packers are paying something north of $20 million per season to two players who haven’t produced a single nine-sack season in eight tries. They both benefited from playing alongside excellent talent and rarely saw double-teams.”

Billy Turner: D. “Before the 2018 season, Turner looked like a replacement-level lineman. Now, the 27-year-old looks like he might be a useful utility lineman, although you wouldn’t really want to plug Turner in and count on him as a starter. The Packers are giving Turner $11 million in the first year of this deal, which values Turner as a surefire starter, likely at guard. … Given that the Packers have four top-75 picks and just spent heavily on their biggest defensive weaknesses, could they have found a similarly promising prospect in the draft for far less? Turner is too expensive of a lottery ticket.”

 

Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire

Adrian Amos: A. “Amos is an immediate upgrade—an outstanding tackler and plus run defender, he can also cover the deep third when asked. This move probably doesn’t preclude the Pack from taking another safety early in the draft, but it’s a great start to revamping a secondary in desperate need–and given the current safety market, this is a relative steal.”

Za’Darius Smith: n/a. “After three relatively quiet seasons, Smith busted out at exactly the right time in 2018 with 10 sacks and 61 total pressures. He’s a great fit for a Green Bay defensive line in need of pass-rush help because he can bring it from every gap—an above-average edge guy, Smith is able to move inside and get after the quarterback from there, as well.”

Billy Turner: C-. “It’s not that Turner is a horrible player—he’s only given up four sacks in the last two seasons—but giving Turner mid-tier offensive line money when he’s basically a swing guard/tackle guy in terms of ideal positioning says that after their defensive spending spree, the Packers are spackling their offensive line together and paying a premium price for it. Ideally, they’ll reinforce their line in the draft, because this isn’t the long-term solution it appears to be.”

 

The Athletic ($)

Adrian Amos: C+. “It’s not as splashy a move as the other defensive deals the Packers have made this week, but Amos is a quality player at a position of need for the Packers. We’ll have to see now if his production can match the hefty first-year price tag.”

Preston Smith: B. “Smith’s age and durability are a huge plus for the Packers, but you could argue that adding Preston Smith on top of Za’Darius Smith might not have been the wisest investment given the depth of pass rushers available in the draft. But now that the Packers have spent their free agent money on the Smiths, that draft capital can be used elsewhere.”

Za’Darius Smith: A. “Yes, they’re paying a lot. But Aaron Rodgers turns 36 in December, and the Packers can justify taking some big swings. I am a huge fan of the player and think he will be a great scheme fit. There are times to try and be aggressive, and this was one of them.”

 

Pro Football Focus

Adrian Amos: Elite. “Amos has been a top-10 safety in PFF grades in each of the past two seasons and while he’s not going to make as many highlight-reel plays as the likes of his former Bears teammate Eddie Jackson, he’s a really good safety. He plays the run well, can run with tight ends downfield and can force incompletions by timing his hits perfectly. One of the best signings of free agency so far.”

Preston Smith: Above average. “He set career highs in PFF grade (76.9), total pressures (53) and tackles resulting in a defensive stop (27). Pairing the two Smiths on the edge has definitely improved the Packers defense heading into 2019.”

Za’Darius Smith: Average. “The Packers are taking a little bit of a gamble here, given that Smith’s 2018 season was significantly better than his first three years in the league, but they are adding a player who was tied for the 14th-highest PFF pass-rushing grade among edge defenders in 2018. With 10 sacks, 17 hits and 34 pressures in his final year in Baltimore, he has the opportunity to provide a big improvement to the Packers defense if he can continue at that level and beyond.”

Billy Turner: Below average. “While the positional need was clear, this move is a bit puzzling in terms of Turner’s past production and the amount of money Green Bay is giving him. The Packers are clearly paying him to be a starter, but 2018 was just the second season of his five-year career he served his team as a full-time starter. For his career, he has played a total of 1,142 pass-block reps and has surrendered 16 sacks and 69 total pressures. However, he has shown promise as of late, and last year in Denver, he ended the season strong, as he yielded no sacks and just one quarterback hit in his final eight games.”

 

Darryl Slater, NJ Advance Media

Adrian Amos: B+. “He has the ability to play both safety spots. He isn’t the most prominent safety in the NFL, but he is an intriguing, young player, still just 25.”

Preston Smith: C+. “He has just 16.5 sacks combined over the past three seasons, so why exactly do the Packers think he’ll suddenly become a pass rushing stud?”

Za’Darius Smith: D+. “What are the Packers seeing here? Smith had 8.5 sacks last year, but just 10 combined in the previous three seasons.”

 

WalterFootball.com

Adrian Amos: A. “[Landon] Collins, [Tyrann] Mathieu and [Lamarcus] Joyner all received more than $10 million per season, with the former two obtaining deals worth $14 million annually. Amos will be getting a bit more than half of that, yet he’s every bit as good as Mathieu and Joyner, and pretty close to Collins in talent. Thus, the Packers are getting a bargain by comparison. If that were all, we’d be discussing a B+/B grade, but it must also be noted that the Packers are poaching an extremely integral member of their rival’s defense. The Bears won the division last season because of their prolific defense, but now their stop unit won’t be as potent without the terrific Amos patrolling their defensive backfield. Amos will make plays against Mitchell Trubisky instead, which could turn the tide in the NFC North. With all that in mind, I believe this is a terrific signing, worthy of an ‘A’ grade.”

Preston Smith: A. “Smith’s contract contains just $16 million guaranteed, which is a very low number for a high overall figure like $52 million. That puts this signing in the “A” grade range. … The $16 million guaranteed is definitely a bargain for a talented player like Preston Smith. The former Redskin had just four sacks in 2018, but he pressured the quarterback frequently and also clamped down against the run. He’s also just 26, so he should continue to improve his game.”

Za’Darius Smith: B. “Smith is a very promising, young edge rusher. He tallied 8.5 sacks in 2018, and he wasn’t even a full-time player. It’s very possible, and almost likely, that with a full-time role, he’ll eclipse double-digit sacks. Smith is somewhat unproven, but he has a great skill set that should allow him to be a terror off the edge in his new home. The guaranteed amount could change my mind, but I don’t love this move as much as the Preston Smith and Adrian Amos signings. Still, this seems like a good acquisition that will provide a much-needed boost to Green Bay’s defense.”

Billy Turner: F. “Some may describe Billy Turner as versatile because he can play both guard and right tackle. I would describe him as turnstile. Turner cannot block well. He’s an OK backup because he can play multiple positions, but he’s a huge liability as a starter. And given that the Packers are paying Turner $7 million per season, I assume they want him to be a starter. I think this is a huge mistake, one that the Packers will ultimately regret.”

 

Steven Ruiz of For the Win

Adrian Amos: B+. “The Packers went over market price to get Adrian Amos’ signature, but they didn’t have to cough up as much cash as the other teams that landed star safeties on Day 1. And Amos is the best cover safety of the bunch. Green Bay gets high marks for this signing.”

Preston Smith: B. “It’s hard to land one of the bigger names in free agency without going completely overboard on the contract, but that’s what the Packers did here. Preston Smith has never been a player worth $13 million a season but he is certainly on the trajectory. The 2018 season was the most consistent of his career, and, at 26, he should only continue to get better.”

Za’Darius Smith: D+. “Green Bay is paying elite money to a player whose best season was closer to average than it was spectacular. If Za’Darius Smith doesn’t develop into one of the very best pass rushers in the league, the Packers won’t get their money’s worth.”

 

OVERALL GPA

Adrian Amos: 3.32 (note: 9 grades; we used an A grade for PFF’s elite)

Preston Smith: short term – 3.08; long term – 3.04 (note: 8 grades; we used a B for PFF’s above average)

Za’Darius Smith: short term – 2.23; long term – 2.17 (note: 7 grades; we used a C for PFF’s average)

Billy Turner: 1.34 (note: 5 grades, we used a D for PFF’s below average)