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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Za’Darius Smith managed to get ready for the Green Bay Packers season opener after battling a back injury throughout training camp, but the Packers shut him down after playing just 18 shots in the loss to the New Orleans Saints.
They placed Smith on injured reserve on Friday, meaning he will miss at least three games before he is eligible to return, but may miss even more time than that.
The Packers weighed in to keep him on the active list and limit his playing time, but instead decided to keep him out until at least October 10 in the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Why not try to get him as healthy as possible so we can hopefully make him more accessible?” Said LaFleur.
Smith, who has made two Pro Bowls in as many seasons since signing a $ 66 million four-year deal with the Packers in 2019, is one of only three NFL players with 12 plus sacks in each of the last two seasons (Aaron Donald and TJ Watt are the others).
He wanted a contract extension this offseason, but instead the Packers simply converted some of his base salary and guard bonus to a signing bonus paid out immediately last month, which according to a source did not live up to his expectations. Smith, who has not spoken to reporters since training camp began, also felt wrong that he was not re-elected as team captain. Shortly after the captains were announced last week, Smith tweeted: “Wow” with a scratchy chin emoji.
Smith signed up for training camp with a back injury and was placed on the list of non-football injuries. He only practiced once in camp before being shut down again until week 1. He practiced three times to a limited extent during the opening week.
The highlight of his 18-snap stint against the Saints was a hit on quarterback Jameis Winston, which forced an interception by Darnell Savage, but the turnover was wiped out due to a gross-passing penalty on Smith — a penalty Packers argued vehemently against.
The Packers signed OLB LaDarius Hamilton from the Buccaneers training team to occupy Smith’s roster. Hamilton was an outdated free agent with the Cowboys in 2020, but was claimed to be waived from Tampa Bay last offseason. Preston Smith and 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary start on the edge and Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers will serve as the primary backups for Monday night against the Detroit Lions.