Former Packers linebacker Za'Darius Smith said team made him feel like 'a nobody' after injury

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Former Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith didn’t speak to reporters all last season and chose not to share much on social media about his injury-marred 2021 season.

But in an interview with Go Long, a football website created by former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tyler Dunne, Smith blasted the Packers for how they treated him last year and said a benefit of signing a deal with the Minnesota Vikings after getting cut in March was a chance to face the Packers this season.

“I played one year of high school football,” Smith told Dunne. “For me to be where I’m at today, that’s how you know I love the game. I put my all into it. That’s why I felt the way I did with Green Bay — I gave that (expletive) my all. I put my blood, sweat … I put my back on the (expletive) line. I put everything. And that Year 3, I was treated bad. That’s why I’m here now. So, I can play them twice a year.”

Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith speaks to the media during training camp.

Smith agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens on a free agent deal after the Packers released him — gaining $15.7 million in salary cap room in the process — but not long after called his agent and told him he wanted to sign with the Vikings. Smith began his career with the Ravens and signed a four-year, $66 million deal with the Packers as an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

He had a remarkable year in ’19, finishing the regular season with 13½ sacks, 25 quarterback hits and 38 quarterback pressures. He wasn’t as dominating in ’20, but he still finished with 12½ sacks, eight quarterback hits and 16 pressures.

Smith said he hurt his back lifting weights early in camp in ’21.

“I go to the trainers, they tell me one thing,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Alright, I feel like I need a second opinion.’ Because this (stuff) doesn’t feel like anything normal. It was training camp. It was coming back for training camp. When that happened, I said, ‘Let me get a second opinion.’ They didn’t want me to leave because it was training camp.”

Smith attempted to practice Aug. 16 but was back in rehab the next day. He said he eventually flew to Los Angeles to have the back examined and it was determined that famed spinal surgeon Robert Watkins would repair a bulge that was pressing on a nerve.

Smith had the surgery in late September, rehabbed away from the facility for a month and returned to the facility in early November. He said that he wasn’t acknowledged.

“How I was (perceived) here in the building, I came down to here, to a nobody,” Smith said. “To everybody in building. I was like, ‘Damn, why am I being treated like this?' I brought the culture. I helped change this (stuff). Why the (expletive) am I the one being treated like that?”

He said he felt ignored.

“Walking past me not saying nothing,” Smith said. “(Not) ‘Z, how’s your back doing?’ — there was none of that. As you can see, that adds on to why I’m on the other side. So, I can go back. I get to go back two times a year.”

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Coach Matt LaFleur was asked how he felt about Smith’s comments.

"I respect the crap out of Z as a player,” he said. “He busted his butt and did a lot of great things. I think we may have a different perspective of how things transpired."

Smith said he spent time with the Vikings players and coaches when he arrived, going over some of the Packers’ calls and strengths and weaknesses of the players. He has been healthy through training camp and is expected to start at outside linebacker for the Vikings in their season opener Sunday against the Packers.

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