Rolexes for everyone: Preston Smith proving value for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith made a deal: Whichever one of the Green Bay Packers outside linebackers reached double-digit sacks first would buy the gifts.

On Sunday, it became time to reveal what it will be. Preston won the race to 10 thanks to two sacks in Sunday's 24-16 win over the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field.

And now it's Rolex watches for everyone.

"The whole defense," Preston said.

That stunned even Za'Darius.

"Dang," he said. "The whole defense [gets] Rolexes?"

Za'Darius gave Preston one more chance to amend it, considering Za'Darius said he would have gifted gold chains with individual player number medallions to only their outside linebacker group.

As the two did their customary joint postgame interview, Preston confirmed: "The whole defense. They helped me get there."

And the Smiths helped the Packers get to 8-2 headed into this week's bye, with an NFC showdown at San Francisco up next on Nov. 24.

While Za'Darius didn't get a sack on Sunday -- he's stuck on 8.5 for the season -- he was credited with three of the Packers' nine hits on Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen.

Preston not only sacked Allen twice but saved the game with his goal-line stop of Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey as time expired.

The Packers' defense was burned once again by allowing explosive gains; it's now up to 42 plays of 20-plus yards allowed this season, causing coach Matt LaFleur to say: "We absolutely have to be better than that." But Preston gave the Packers just what they needed again and again. At the end, he cleaned up the tackle on McCaffrey after Kyler Fackrell slowed him down and redirected him toward Smith as time expired.

Week after week, the Smiths keep making general manager Brian Gutekunst look good for his decision to jump full-bore into free agency and sign them to contracts that -- if they play them out -- will cost the Packers $118 million over four years. They were part of a four-player free-agent class that also included safety Adrian Amos and right guard Billy Turner.

Za'Darius signed the bigger deal (four years, $66 million) and has become the vocal leader of the defense, but Preston (four years, $52 million) has been just as valuable.

"I give him a lot of credit because you never know when you a pay a guy -- really both of those guys and Adrian and Billy -- you don't know what you're going to get," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Are you getting a guy who now feels like, 'OK I've got my money and I can kind of just do my thing' or a guy who's going to realize that with that money comes some responsibility?

"And I give all four of those guys a lot of credit. They obviously got paid some money this offseason, and they've all made the most of those opportunities. You can't plan for that, and that's why I think in the past we've been hesitant to bring in free agents because you never know what kind of personality you're going to get. But I do feel really good that we hit on all four of those guys."

Still, this is new territory for the Smiths. Between them, they've made the playoffs just one time apiece in their careers. And it's new even for some of the Packers, who have been shut out of the playoffs the past two seasons.

Because of that, Rodgers issued a warning as the Packers were about to disperse for the bye week.

"It doesn't happen like this all the time," Rodgers said, sharing a conversation he had with veteran tight end Jimmy Graham. "We've both been through rough seasons over the years, where you're just not quite in the mix. This feels different. Hopefully those guys understand how important the opportunity is and not do anything stupid that's going to jeopardize their role in that opportunity."

Rodgers said he wasn't asking the younger players to do it for the him and the other veterans, noting that was the attitude during their Super Bowl run in 2010, when there was a do-it-for-the-veterans (like Donald Driver and Charles Woodson) mentality.

"I just think we're asking for guys to do their part and to buy into something," Rodgers said.

And that's what he appreciates so much about Preston and the other free-agent additions.

"He's a guy who really understands how special this is because he's been on the other side of some of these squads over the years and he's just really thankful," Rodgers said of Preston. "He's got kind of that attitude of gratitude every day where he's just almost giddy about being a part of a team that has a chance to do something and is winning football games and is going to play meaningful games the rest of the season."

Perhaps it was the giddiness that led Preston to splurge on the Rolexes.