Green Bay, Wes. Former Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith did not speak to reporters throughout last season and chose not to share much on social media about the injury-scarred 2021 season.
But in an interview with go longa football website created by the former Milwaukee Journal Ranger Journalist Tyler Dunn, Smith criticized the Packers for the way they treated him last year, and said the benefit of signing a deal with the Minnesota Vikings after it was cut in March was an opportunity to face the Packers this season.
“I played football for a year in high school,” Smith-Lden said. “For me to be where I am today, that’s how you know I love the game. I put everything I have in it. That’s why I felt the way I felt with Green Bay — I gave that (expletive) everything I had. I put my blood, my sweat.” …I put my back on the line (expletive). I put everything. And in that third year, I was treated badly. That’s why I’m here now. So, I can play it twice a year.”
NFL 2022 Season Predictions:Super Bowl 57, playoffs, best player and other awards
32 stories entering the first week:2022 season is crazy and wide open
Play to win $25,000: USA TODAY NFL Survivor Pool
NFL newsletter:Subscribe now to receive football news in your inbox
Smith agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens in a free agent deal after the packers fired him — earning $15.7 million in room salary cap in the process — but shortly after his agent called 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 great year in ’19, finishing the regular season with 13 sacks, 25 quarterback strokes and 38 quarterback presses. He wasn’t dominant in ’20, but still finished with 12 sacks, eight quarterbacks and 16 push-ups.
Smith said he injured his back with weightlifting early in camp in 2021.
“I go to the coaches, they tell me one thing,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Well, I feel like I need a second opinion.'” Because these (things) don’t seem like a normal thing. It was a training camp. It was back to training camp. When that happened, I said, “Let me get a second opinion.” They didn’t want me to leave because it was a training camp.”
Smith attempted to train on August 16 but returned to rehab the next day. He said he eventually flew to Los Angeles to have his back checked, and it was decided that famous spine surgeon Robert Watkins would fix the bulge that was pressing on the nerve.
Smith underwent surgery in late September, rehabilitated away from the facility for a month and returned to the facility in early November. He said he was not recognized.
“How it was (looking at me) here in the building, I got down here, in front of one,” Smith said. “To everyone in the building. I was like, ‘Damn, why am I being treated this way?’ I brought in the culture. I helped change these (things). Why (expletive) am I the one being treated this way?”
He said he felt ignored.
“You walk beside me without saying anything,” Smith said. (Not) Z, how’s your back? – There was something about that. You see, that adds up to my reason for being on the other side. So I can go back. I have to go back twice a year.”
Coach Matt LaFleur was asked how he felt about Smith’s comments.
He said: “I respect Z’s follies as a player. He broke his ass and did a lot of great things. I think we might have a different perspective on how things are going.”
Smith said he spent time with Vikings players and coaches upon his arrival, going over some of the Packers calls and the players’ strengths and weaknesses. He has been healthy through training camp and is expected to start as the Vikings’ quarterback in Sunday’s season opener against the Packers.