Za’Darius Smith is finally telling his side of the story behind his breakup with the Green Bay Packers in the early parts of the 2022 offseason, and let’s just say the All-Pro pass rusher is eager to see his former team again in Week 1.
Smith recently spoke for the first time about the miserable way his time in Green Bay ended in an interview with Go Long’s Tyler Dunne and didn’t hold back on his former Packers coaches and teammates when discussing how they treated him in the aftermath of his back surgery prior to the start of the 2021 season.
The two-time Pro Bowler also said the treatment he received from the Packers was one of the main reasons why he chose to sign with the Minnesota Vikings for 2022.
“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 s*** my all. I put my blood, sweat… I put my back on the f****** 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.”
Smith Says Packers’ Mood Shifted After His Back Surgery
Smith was an absolute game-wrecker during his time with the Packers, racking up a combined 144 pressures, 29 sacks and 72 defensive stops over his two seasons and earning two Pro Bowl selections along with 2020 second-team All-Pro recognition. In fact, heading into the 2021 season, Smith seemed more like a candidate for a contract extension than someone who might be dumped for salary-cap savings.
The back injury, however, changed everything for him.
As Smith told Dunne, he felt a pain in his back weightlifting during training camp and wanted to get a second opinion on the injury after hearing what the Packers trainers had to say. The Packers didn’t want him to leave during training camp, but Smith flew to Los Angeles on an off day anyways and was told he “had a ‘bulge’ in his back that was touching a nerve” and would need to undergo surgery.
Smith got the surgery and returned to the Packers, but here’s what Dunne wrote happened next for him upon his return to Green Bay:
The mood, he claims, completely changed.
“How I was here in the building,” he says holding his hand high, before tilting it down, “I came down to here. To a nobody. To everybody in building. I was like, ‘Damn, why am I being treated like this? I brought the culture. I helped change this s***. Why the f*** am I the one being treated like that?’”
Smith isn’t shy in explaining what he means by this because it’s part of the reason he’s now in purple.
“Walking past me not saying nothing. ‘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.”
Smith Claims Packers Wanted Him to Play Through Injury
Fans might remember the swirl of rumors and reports that emerged about Smith heading into his third season in Green Bay. During the 2021 offseason, the Packers had exercised the automatic conversion option in Smith’s contract that converted a large portion of his 2021 salary into guaranteed money but raised his 2022 cap hit to untenable heights, foreshadowing his release after the season.
It was said — according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk — that Smith was “believed to be unhappy” about that decision, leading some to speculate that Smith’s back issue might have also been partly rooted in his frustration with his contract situation. There was also the issue of the Packers not naming Smith as one of their defensive captains for the 2021 season, which was made into a bigger deal than it was after Smith tweeted a cryptic “Wow” that was presumed to be related to the captaincy snub.
According to Dunne, though, Smith’s reason for being upset with the Packers was plain and simple: They wanted him to play through his back injury in 2021 when he believed “his back required surgery and time off.”
“Yes, they did. That was the only thing I hated,” Smith said, via Go Long. “A lot of fans are now upset with me about the situation. They hate me because they felt like I was just angry for no f****** reason. They thought I was angry over the contract. I was like, ‘I did good. But that contract was one-year guaranteed.’ … So, for me to come back into that building after going to see my doctor, it felt like s*** went south. After that, man, that year didn’t go how I wanted it to.”