Back surgery puts Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith's season in doubt

GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers will be without outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith for most of the season and there’s a possibility he won’t be back at all after undergoing surgery to repair his ailing back. 

 A source confirmed an NFL Network report that Smith had surgery and said the surgery occurred during the middle of this week. The Packers were aware the surgery took place, but they don’t have to make a roster move because he was already on injured reserve. 

Exactly what Smith had done to his back is not clear, but it’s not surprising the surgery took place given he has been battling the injury since before training camp began. Smith injured his back while working out on his own in the offseason and was put on the non-football injury list upon reporting in July. 

He stayed there until attempting to practice on Aug. 16. 

Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith underwent back surgery and is out indefinitely.

The next day he was back on the sideline and he did not return until the week before the season opener against the New Orleans Saints. He played 18 snaps in the game and registered a big hit on quarterback Jameis Winston that was flagged for unnecessary roughness, but the next day he was sore and the Packers decided to put him on injured reserve. 

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He had another week after this one before he would be eligible to return. The Packers were hopeful that keeping him out of football drills would allow his back to heal enough that he could be a full-time player. 

Smith has posted pictures of himself at workouts on his Instagram page, but he did not say anything about surgery. He has not talked to local reporters since reporting for camp. 

Given the delicacy of back injuries, it would not be surprising if Smith does not return to the team this year. The NFL Network report only said he would be out for an extended period, but given the season is into its fourth week and the recovery time could be months, it’s probably a stretch to think he’ll be back this season. 

Smith was due $17 million in base salary and bonuses this season and will still receive most of it. The only portion he won’t receive is from the per-game roster bonus he would have earned. He had received 1/17th of the $500,000 for playing in the opener but won’t receive any more if he doesn’t play again this season. 

The Packers had given him a $10 million advance on his salary after restructuring his contract to help them reduce their salary-cap space this year. 

Of importance is the $15.75 million he is due next season. The Packers will have to decide whether to keep him at that salary or let him go so they can gain some salary-cap room. A lot will depend on how well the surgery and recovery go. 

Smith had hinted in social media posts that he wanted the Packers to give him a new deal. If they had, they would have been on the hook for all the guaranteed money even if he were not on the team next year. 

Given Smith sent out signals on social media that he was upset about not being elected a captain this year, it’s possible the Packers will move on after the season. But if there’s a player whose talent they value a lot, it’s Smith. 

He has 26 sacks and five forced fumbles since signing a four-year, $66 million free agent contract in 2019 and was expected to be a big part of new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s scheme. Smith, who turned 29 earlier this month, was expected to be teamed with outside rushers Preston Smith and Rashan Gary to provide Barry with a formidable pass rush on third downs. 

The Packers will now try to get the most they can out of Preston Smith and hope that Gary fulfills the potential of being a first-round pick. 

MVS placed on IR, will miss at least three games

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring injury) will not play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Friday. As ESPN first reported, Valdes-Scantling has been placed on short-term injured reserve and will miss at least three games.

Cornerback Kevin King (concussion) and left tackle Elgton Jenkins (ankle) are doubtful for Sunday, LaFleur said.

Aaron Jones to keep wearing father's ashes

Running back Aaron Jones didn't just regain the necklace containing his father's ashes after losing it following a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in Week 2.

The Packers figured out a way for Jones to continue wearing it while playing.

Equipment manager Gordon "Red" Batty sewed a pocket inside Jones' jersey, fittingly over his heart, to hold the necklace. 

"I can just drop it in there," Jones said, "and not worry about it falling out. So I can play with it."

Jones played with his altered uniform Sunday night at the San Francisco 49ers and had no issues with the necklace. He hopes that continues. Jones said he expects to play with the necklace throughout his career.

"Just keep my dad with me everywhere I go," Jones said. "I wear it mostly at all times. ... I think it's something I'll definitely continue to do."