Packers Expect Late-Season Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith Returns

The Packers finished their Week 11 loss to the Vikings without most of their Pro Bowlers. In addition to David Bakhtiari and Aaron Jones‘ absences, Elgton Jenkins suffered a torn ACL. And the outing marked yet another game without Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander.

While little clarity has emerged on Smith and Alexander’s statuses, it appears the Packers are not expecting either to miss the rest of the season. The Packers are eyeing a Smith return at some point during the regular season’s final six weeks, Jeremy Fowler of notes (ESPN+ link). Ditto Alexander, whom The Athletic’s Matt Schneidmann adds is expected to be back at some point late in the season as well (subscription required).

The lack of concrete timetables over the past several weeks opened the door to one or both standouts being shut down. That was in play for Alexander, but the fourth-year cornerback did not opt for surgery. Green Bay’s top cover man has instead progressed to the point he is working out without an arm sling, Schneidmann adds. Alexander suffered a shoulder injury in Week 4. A rebound for Alexander will only further bolster his stock, with a clear extension window opening ahead of his 2022 fifth-year option season.

Smith has been out with a back injury since Week 1, and the Pack’s top sack man having battled back trouble this offseason and during camp creates a murkier situation. The seventh-year pro underwent¬†surgery in late September and has a monster cap number ($28.1MM, up from $14MM this season) in 2022. While Smith’s post-2021 Wisconsin future is highly uncertain, his return to rejoin Preston Smith and Rashan Gary would be a tremendous boon to the Packers’ Super Bowl chances. Smith totaled 26 sacks between the 2019 and ’20 seasons.

Neither Smith nor Alexander has been designated to return from IR. Once the Packers make those moves, respective 21-day activation windows will open. The Packers’ defense has played well without its top players, ranking fifth in points allowed and seventh in yards yielded. While the Vikings dented the previously stingy unit, the Packers can hope their squad will be reinforced with top-level talent in the not-too-distant future.

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