Packers’ Matt LaFleur Praises Preston Smith’s ‘Selfless’ Decision

LaFleur on Preston Smith

Getty Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers looks on before the game against the Washington Football Team at Lambeau Field on October 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Rarely do NFL coaches praise a player for missing a game with an injury, but Matt LaFleur was more than happy to be the exception when talking about Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith in Week 7’s postgame.

Smith’s career-long streak of playing in 102 consecutive games was snapped on Sunday, October 24, when the Packers declared him inactive about 90 minutes before kickoff against the Washington Football Team at Lambeau Field. The 28-year-old pass rusher had spent the week battling an oblique injury that kept him out of the first two days of practice, but he did return in a limited capacity for Friday’s final session and was given a chance to play with a “questionable” injury designation for Sunday.

Smith, of course, had every reason in the world to play beyond the pride of his impressive streak. He has been the Packers’ top guy on the outside all year in the absence of Za’Darius Smith as well as a crucial piece of their improved run defense. He is also chasing sacks incentives after agreeing to pay cut/restructure in the offseason that helped ensure he would remain with the team for the 2021 season.

When it came time for a decision, though, Smith ultimately made the “selfless” call.

“I think he was close,” LaFleur explained in Sunday’s postgame.”He was doing everything in his power to get out there. I think it was a selfless thing to do for him not to play to be honest with you, because he could have gone out there and told us (he was good), but would he have been the best version of him? How many plays would he have played? He and I sat down and we had a conversation. I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. Obviously, there’s a lot of pride when you’ve started your entire career and haven’t missed a game, so I think that was tough on him, but I’ve got to give him a lot of credit for being a team guy.”

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Short Week Also Influenced Smith Decision

While LaFleur didn’t share specific details about his pregame conversation with Smith, he did concede the Packers’ upcoming short week had “a little bit of a role” in their decision to sit him against Washington. The Packers will get just three days of preparation before hitting the road again to face the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals for Thursday Night Football on October 28 and will need all hands on deck from their defensive front to contain quarterback Kyler Murray and his knack for scrambling.

“You never want to try to allow what you have in front of you impact what is in the now, and that’s one thing we talked to our team about,” LaFleur said when asked if the Cardinals matchup influenced their decision not to play Smith this week. “But no, you try not to let it affect you too much, but I’d be sitting here lying to you if I said it didn’t play a little bit of a role into that.”

Plenty of Time for Smith to Hit Sacks Incentives

Based on LaFleur’s comments, it would seem likely that Smith returns to the lineup for Week 8’s road game against Arizona, and that means there is still plenty of time for him to hit several of the sacks incentives that were added to his contract this offseason.

Smith has looked like a rejuvenated version of himself in his third year with the Packers, but he is currently only on pace to hit one of his five possible bonuses for total sacks. He still needs another four sacks to hit the first incentive for six sacks, which is worth $500,000. From there, the payout increases steadily with each pair of sacks he adds from eight ($750,000) to 10 ($750,000) to 12 ($1.2 million) to 14 ($1.2 million).

While it might be a stretch to think Smith will still max out his incentives, there will be no shortage of opportunities for him to try. The Packers have given no updates to speak of regarding the return of their other pass-rushing Smith, leaving him and Rashan Gary as the primary duo at outside linebacker for the foreseeable future. Green Bay also has a multiple-game lead over the rest of the NFC North, increasing their chances of playoffs — and more moments for Smith to get through to quarterbacks.

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