The Green Bay Packers Take A Hit As Za’Darius Smith Heads To The Injured Reserve List
Za’Darius Smith, the Green Bay Packers’ top pass rusher the past two years, is headed to the injured reserve list.
Smith, an outside linebacker, has been battling a back injury since the start of training camp. Smith played 18 snaps in Green Bay’s 38-3 season-opening loss to New Orleans, but hasn’t practiced this week.
Rather than keeping Smith on a pitch count in future weeks, the Packers decided to shut him down for now in an attempt to get fully healthy.
“It’s a matter of just, do you keep him in a limited role?” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Friday. “Or do you shut him down for a while, try to get him healthy and then get him up to the snap count that we’d like him to be, just like he’s been in the past, ‘cause he’s such an impact player. So, that’s just the route that we thought was best long term.”
Smith will miss at least three games. The Packers host Detroit Monday, then travel to San Francisco on Sept. 26 and host Pittsburgh Oct. 3.
Smith practiced just once during training camp. Smith practiced three days last week, then played in a limited role against the Saints.
“It speaks more to the repetitions, you know,” LaFleur said. “What did he have, 18 snaps, or whatever? So, it’s one thing when you’re managing a back throughout the course of the season, why not try to get him as healthy as possible so we can have him, you know, more readily available hopefully.”
Smith signed a four-year, $66 million free agent deal with Green Bay in March, 2019. Last offseason, the Packers converted $9.76 million of Smith’s 2021 salary and his entire $5 million roster bonus into a signing bonus to create $7.38 million in cap space.
Smith has earned every cent of his money in Green Bay by posting 26.0 sacks in his first two seasons. That’s tied for third-most in the league since 2019 and is more than any Packer in history in their first two seasons with the team.
In fact, the only players in the league with 12-plus sacks each of the last two seasons are Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt and Smith. And the last Packer with back-to-back seasons with 12-plus sacks is Aaron Kampman (2006-07).
In 2019 — Smith’s first in Green Bay — he led the NFL with 93 pressures and tied for the league lead with 37 quarterback hits. He also added 17 tackles for loss and became the focal point for opposing defenses as the year went on.
Last season, Smith had 12.5 sacks and forced four fumbles. Smith also ranked 10th in the league with 23 quarterback hits last year and was named to the Pro Bowl.
“Well, he’s a disruptive force. He’s a game wrecker,” LaFleur said of Smith. “Certainly, I think he’s a guy that the defense has to, or the offense has to account for on every play, where he’s at, where he’s aligned. How are you going to protect against a guy like that? Because if you give him those one-on-one matchups he can make you pay. So, yeah, he’s certainly proven his worth over the last couple years, and prior to coming here. Just how dominant and such a force he can be.”
The Packers still have a solid starting duo in Preston Smith and Rashan Gary.
Gary, a first round draft pick in 2019, ranked second on the Packers with 6.5 sacks and second in pressures with 30 last year, despite the fact he played less than half the snaps.
Preston Smith had a career year in 2019 with 12.0 sacks and 45.5 pressures. He fell off last season, though, with 4.0 sacks and 19.0 pressures.
There’s no proven depth behind that duo, where 2020 seventh round pick Jonathan Garvin and 2020 undrafted free agent Chauncey Rivers are next in line.
“Yeah, those guys, I mean it’s a next-man in mentality,” LaFleur said. “And certainly everybody’s going to have to play their part in terms of getting that production. So, we need everybody to be at their best.”