Za'Darius Smith

Za’Darius Smith Undergoes Back Surgery

The Packers will be without their top pass rusher for longer than expected. Za’Darius Smith underwent back surgery this week, according to Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter).

While the Packers obviously hope this is not a season-ending situation, Smith’s timetable has been pushed back considerably. It will certainly be a while before the veteran outside linebacker suits up again. Smith, who suffered this back injury several weeks ago, remains on IR.

When the Packers placed Smith on IR after he aggravated his injury in Week 1, the team hoped the minimum three-week absence would be required here. But a late-season return is now expected, Rapoport adds (Twitter link). Green Bay is uniquely equipped to handle such an injury, with 2019 first-rounder Rashan Gary residing as the team’s third edge rusher. Gary and Preston Smith are operating as the Packers’ edge starters, though their pass rush is weakened without the two-time Pro Bowler.

This malady has dogged Smith since before training camp. The seventh-year rusher began camp on Green Bay’s active/NFI list but suffered a setback shortly after returning in early August. Smith, 29, managed to return for Week 1 but played just 18 snaps against the Saints. This looms as a key year for the late-blooming edge, whose 2022 Packers status is up in the air.

The Packers adjusted Smith’s contract this offseason, and the former Raven was not too pleased due to the team restructuring the deal but not paying Smith upfront. The Packers have since paid Smith the $10MM due from his base-to-bonus restructure, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. The team’s latest adjustment notwithstanding, Smith is still set to see his cap number spike from $14.6MM this year to a presumably untenable $28.1MM in 2022. Smith’s contract expires after the 2022 season.

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Packers Place Za’Darius Smith On IR

The Packers have placed edge rusher Za’Darius Smith on injured reserve, according to head coach Matt LaFleur (Twitter link via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com). The Packers initially hoped to have him ready for Week 2, but his back hasn’t healed as quickly as expected.

We’re going to have to shut him down for a while,” LaFleur said. “[It’s a matter of,] do you keep him in a limited or do you shut him down for a while and try to get him up to the snap count we’d like him to be.”

Smith came off Green Bay’s active/NFI list August 9 but suffered setbacks shortly after. The Packers plan to exercise caution here, shelving Smith for at least another three games.

Smith, 28, also took issue with how the Packers restructured his contract earlier year. However, club officials have made it clear that Smith’s absence is strictly injury-related.

In theory, the two-time reigning NFC North champs are well equipped to handle Smith’s absence, given the presence of Preston Smith and former first-round pick Rashan Gary. Still, they didn’t look great in any facet last week as the Packers were crushed 38-3 by the Saints.

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Za’Darius Smith’s Week 1 Status In Doubt

The Packers’ top pass rusher has missed time recently and is now not certain to suit up when they begin their regular-season slate. Za’Darius Smith is down currently with a back injury Matt LaFleur said could sideline him for Week 1, Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette tweets.

Smith came off Green Bay’s active/NFI list August 9 but suffered a setback shortly after. Back trouble led to Smith beginning Packers camp on the NFI list, and after the Pro Bowl outside linebacker participated briefly with his teammates, he returned to the sidelines. The Packers plan to exercise caution here, leading to the uncertainty surrounding Smith’s Week 1 availability.

This quick move back to the sidelines for Smith invited some speculation about his contract, which became an issue earlier this offseason. GM Brian Gutekunst shot down the notion this absence is contract-related, indicating (via ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, on Twitter) Smith’s shutdown is “100%” due to his back flaring up and not a contract matter. Smith, 28, took issue with how the Packers restructured his contract this year, and the seventh-year veteran was not believed to be high on how the Packers are now doling out his payments.

The two-time reigning NFC North champs are among the best-equipped teams to handle an injury to their top rusher, rostering both Preston Smith and former first-round pick Rashan Gary. Those two stand to be Green Bay’s edge starters against the Saints in Week 1, should Za’Darius Smith be held out. While it is unlikely this trio returns together for the 2022 season, the Packers’ decision to retain Preston Smith this year — via a reworked contract — is paying off now.

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Za’Darius Smith Frustrated With Contract?

While the Packers not restructuring Aaron Rodgers‘ contract provided one of many Rodgers-saga highlights this offseason, they did adjust Za’Darius Smith‘s deal in order to create cap space. The Pro Bowl pass rusher is believed to be bothered by the fallout from this move.

Going into his third Green Bay season, Smith is disappointed with his Packers contractual status, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. The Packers exercised an automatic conversion clause in Smith’s deal in March, creating around $8MM in cap space after the team gave Aaron Jones a $12MM-per-year deal. Smith did not realize the implications of this clause, which allowed the Packers to convert base salary to signing bonus money without his go-ahead.

The restructure moved money onto next year’s Packers cap sheet, and Smith is now set to carry a $28.1MM cap charge in 2022. That lofty figure increases the likelihood Smith will be a cap casualty or a trade piece, though given Smith’s production and the fact his contract expires after the 2022 season, a Packers extension would seem to be in play as well. However, the soon-to-be 29-year-old rusher is also irked at the Packers for not paying out his new bonus in March, Florio adds. The team will instead pay it in installments throughout the season, making this new structure similar to a base salary.

The Packers are bringing back Za’Darius and Preston Smith for a third season, doing so despite the latter lagging well behind the former in terms of production. Za’Darius Smith has recorded 26 sacks in two Packers seasons — eight more than his four-year Ravens total — and has not missed a game. Rashan Gary can be controlled on his rookie deal through the 2023 season, giving Green Bay a talented trio of pass rushers.

Za’Darius’ frustration comes at a turbulent time for the Packers, who have failed to patch things up with Rodgers this year. Green Bay’s extension talks with Davante Adams also broke down this week. This will certainly be an interesting stretch for the two-time reigning NFC North champs.

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Ravens Were Out Early On Za’Darius Smith

The Ravens for years have let edge rushers test the market, with several of those processes ending in the franchise recouping mid-round compensatory picks after contract-year standouts departed. They did not deviate from this formula this offseason.

But as a result of both Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith leaving this year, the team is thinner than usual at this premier position. As for Smith, the Ravens were never in the mix to bring him back, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

Smith signed with the Packers on a four-year, $66.5MM contract; the former part-time Ravens starter is now the NFL’s third-highest-paid 3-4 outside linebacker. Ravens GM Eric DeCosta seemed to predict Smith’s exit in January, noting how the market escalates for this type of young talent, and Zreibec notes the Ravens did not want to compete with that cost. Smith registered 8.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits last season and followed previous Baltimore walk-year standouts like Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee in signing big deals elsewhere.

McPhee is now back in Baltimore, with he, Shane Ray, third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson and returning starter Matt Judon comprising the Ravens’ edge-rushing contingent. Judon has yet to say if he and the Ravens have discussed an extension. In terms of young edge defenders potentially set for next year’s market, Judon (15 sacks over the past two seasons) joins Yannick Ngakoue, Bud Dupree and Dante Fowler among those in contract years.

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Jets Rumors: Lee, Draft, Smith

Jets GM Mike Maccagnan gave a series of non-answers when asked about the future of linebacker Darron Lee. But, as Brian Costello of the New York Post writes, his positive comments may have actually been a not-so-subtle way to advertise Lee’s availability.

I think that will work itself out over time,” Maccagnan said when asked about the fate of the former first-round pick. “Right now, we feel very good about our inside-linebacker position between Darron, Avery [Williamson], C.J. [Mosley], we also signed Neville Hewitt. Quite frankly, Darron’s contract is not a big contract. I think it’s only about $1.7 or [1.8] million. It just gives us a lot of pieces there right now and we’ll figure it out as we go forward.”

Maccagnan drafted Lee in the first round of the 2016 draft, but the club is unlikely to exercise his fifth-year option before the May deadline. The GM dismissed the trade speculation, but the club is reportedly set to shop him during the draft.

Here’s more on Gang Green:

  • The Jets’ No. 3 overall pick is for sale, but they’re unlikely to move up to No. 2 or No. 1 (via Costello). “We’re very open to potentially moving back from three,” Maccagnan said. “I wouldn’t envision us moving up in the draft. I think you can rule that one out. If we end up staying at three and taking a player, we think there are some very good players at three. But we’d definitely be interested if another team came with an offer that we felt was worthy of moving out of the spot. We would definitely consider that. Not to say we’re committed to doing it, but we’d definitely be very intrigued by that.”
  • The draft is still one month away, but Maccagnan indicated that the Jets have already had preliminary trade talks with other clubs about moving down from No. 3 (via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY). “We’ve definitely had conversations,” he said. “People have reached out, put out feelers. Nobody is actively trying to do anything at this point in time. But you have conversations and put out feelers, just like how they’re putting out feelers to us.
  • Maccagnan says the Jets pursued pass rusher Za’Darius Smith in free agency (via Manish Mehta of the Daily News). Ultimately, however, Smith chose the Packers when he flew from the Ravens earlier this month.
  • Also from Costello, Maccagnan indicated that he would be comfortable with Jonotthan Harrison starting at center and Darryl Roberts playing first-string at cornerback. Both positions have been presumed areas of need for the Jets. Outside linebacker may also still be a need, even after re-signing Brandon Copeland.

Contract Details: Smith, James, Wake

The latest details on deals from around the NFL:

Packers To Sign Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith

This year, the Packers were serious about making noise in free agency. On Tuesday morning, they agreed to sign safety Adrian Amos, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The club also agreed to terms with former Ravens edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, according to Rapoport (Twitter link). 

Amos is getting a four-year deal worth $37MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapoport notes that it’ll pay him $21MM over the first two years. He was reported to have been seeking between $9-10MM annually, so he got what he wanted.

Amos, 26 in April, enjoyed the best season of his career at the perfect time. Starting in all 16 games, Amos finished out with 73 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defensed, a fumble recovery, and a sack in 2018. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus positioned Amos as the eighth-best safety in the NFL last year, though he placed even higher in 2017.

Smith has been an object of the Packers’ affection for some time now. A few years ago, they tried to trade for the former fourth-round pick. Years later, they got him, albeit at a bit of a premium. The 26-year-old (27 in September), also timed his breakout season well. Last year, the edge rusher finished out with 8.5 sacks and 45 tackles despite starting in only eight of his 16 games.

With these two signings, the Packers have managed to close the gap between themselves and the Lions, who spent some serious coin on Monday. They also stole Amos away from the rival Bears, who were hoping to retain him. Thanks to his link to new Broncos coach Vic Fangio, Amos had been heavily linked to Denver, but ultimately it was Green Bay who won the bidding. Amos was a bit unheralded coming out of college, and was a fifth round pick out of Penn State back in 2015. He became a near immediate starter, and this is a big loss for the Bears’ elite defense.

With the signing of Buster Skrine and the expected departure of Bryce Callahan, Chicago’s secondary will look quite a bit different next year. Smith is the latest in a series of departures from the Ravens’ defense, with linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, along with safety Eric Weddle, all finding new homes.

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Ravens Notes: Flacco, Mosley, Smith, Culley

The Ravens and new general manager Eric DeCosta aren’t expected to make a decision on the fate of quarterback Joe Flacco until March, as Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk writes. The new league year begins in roughly six weeks, and while no trade can be made official until then, Baltimore could agree to deal Flacco to another club before the 2019 league year gets underway. Any pre-June 1 release or trade of Flacco will leave the Ravens with $16MM in dead money; a move after June 1 would put $8MM in dead money on Baltimore’s 2019 books and the same amount on their 2020 cap. In a PFR poll earlier this week, 71% of voters believed the Ravens will be able to find a trade partner for Flacco.

Here’s more from Baltimore:

  • Linebacker C.J. Mosley is perhaps the Ravens’ most important pending free agent, and DeCosta told reporters he “believe[s] in [his] heart” that Mosley will return in 2019, according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. Mosley, who has missed only two games during his five-year run in Baltimore, graded as Pro Football Focus‘ No. 22 linebacker in 2019. He’s reportedly begun contract talks with the Ravens, but head coach John Harbaugh admitted there are “limitations with money.” Luke Kuechly currently tops the inside linebacker market with a $12.4MM annual salary, while the second tier of the position sits between $10MM and $10.75MM.
  • DeCosta didn’t sound as positive when discussing the possibility of re-signing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, tweets Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. “We don’t know what Za’Darius’ market is going to be,” said DeCosta. “He had a really nice year. Typically, the market is usually out of control for those guys, initially out of the gate.” Smith, 26, played the most defensive snaps of his career in 2019, managing 8.5 sacks in the process.
  • The Ravens have hired former Bills quarterbacks coach David Culley as assistant head coach/wide receivers/passing game coordinator, Baltimore announced this week. Culley’s addition will complete the Ravens’ offensive staff overhaul, which began when new offensive coordinator Greg Roman was promoted to take the place of Marty Mornhinweg, who rejected another position inside the organization. Culley, 63, overlapped with Ravens head coach Harbaugh on Andy Reid‘s Eagles staff, serving as Philadelphia’s wide receivers coach while Harbaugh led the club’s special teams and defensive backs

Injury Updates: Redskins, Smith, Ravens, Jefferson, Texans, Reid

Alex Smith to recover from the devastating leg injury he suffered midway through the 2018 season, and Redskins team president Bruce Allen recently provided an update, per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Allen didn’t sound overly confident in Smith’s prospects of being ready for 2019, saying “If anyone can come back, it’s Alex”, but finishing with a “we’ll see.” He also left the door open to drafting a quarterback this April, and sounded as if the team is preparing for being without Smith.

He seemed open to the possibility of Colt McCoy starting, saying “we like Colt a lot.” McCoy initially filled in for Smith but soon went down with his own season ending leg injury. He was then replaced by Josh Johnson who looked a lot better than expected, but Allen didn’t mention Johnson at all in his comments. Smith was recently seen out in public for the first time since his injury, wearing a bulky apparatus on his injured leg.

Here are more injury updates from around the league:

  • Recently extended Ravens coach John Harbaugh spoke to the media today, and provided updates on several injured players, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Harbaugh said guard Alex Lewis, who recently underwent shoulder surgery, should be back by training camp, and that safety Tony Jefferson, linebacker Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Tavon Young would all be out around 4-6 more weeks, putting them on track for OTA’s.
  • Texans rookie safety Justin Reid had a great rookie season, earning very high marks from Pro Football Focus, and he was playing hurt throughout the year. Reid had been dealing with wrist issues, and he will undergo wrist surgery, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. It’s unclear how long he’ll be sidelined, but it doesn’t sound like anything major and he should be ready in time for offseason work.
  • In case you missed it, the 49ers hope to have Jimmy Garoppolo throwing by OTA’s.