Sports

Packers to place OLB Smith on IR with back issue

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Za’Darius Smith managed to get himself ready for the Green Bay Packers‘ season opener after battling a back injury throughout training camp, but the Packers are shutting him down after he played only 18 snaps in the loss to the New Orleans Saints.

They will place Smith on injured reserve, coach Matt LaFleur said Friday. It means he will miss a minimum of three games before he’s eligible to return but could miss even more time than that.

The Packers weighed keeping him on the active roster and limiting his playing time but instead decided to hold him out until at least the Oct. 10 game at the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Why not try to get him as healthy as possible so we can have him more readily available, hopefully?” LaFleur said.

Smith, who has made two Pro Bowls in as many seasons since he signed a four-year, $66 million deal with the Packers in 2019, is one of only three players in the NFL with 12-plus sacks in each of the past two seasons (Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt are the others).

He wanted a contract extension this offseason, but instead the Packers simply converted some of his base salary and roster bonuses into a signing bonus that was paid immediately last month, which, according to a source, did not meet his expectations. Smith, who hasn’t spoken with reporters since the start of training camp, also appeared miffed that he was not reelected as a team captain. Shortly after the captains were announced last week, Smith tweeted: “Wow” with a scratching his chin emoji.

Smith reported to training camp with a back injury and was placed on the non-football injury list. He practiced only once in camp before he was shut down again until Week 1. He practiced three times on a limited basis the week of the opener.

The highlight of his 18-snap stint against the Saints was a hit on quarterback Jameis Winston that forced an interception by Darnell Savage, but the turnover was wiped out because of a roughing-the-passer penalty on Smith — a penalty the Packers vehemently argued against.

The Packers signed OLB LaDarius Hamilton off the Buccaneers practice squad to take Smith’s roster spot. Hamilton was an undrafted free agent with the Cowboys in 2020 but was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay last offseason. Preston Smith and 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary will start on the edge and Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers will serve as the primary backups for Monday night’s game against the Detroit Lions.

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