GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Jaylon Smith has joined the Green Bay Packers, one day after the Dallas Cowboys released the veteran linebacker.
The Packers officially announced Thursday afternoon that they had signed Smith. Packers coach Matt LaFleur had talked earlier in the day about how the former Cowboy would fit in with the Packers.
“I just think (he’s) a veteran guy who’s played at a really high level and just can bring kind of a mentality and leadership to our defense,” LaFleur said.
“Certainly he’s going to be behind quite a bit, being the fact we’re heading to Week 5 and it’s a totally different system, so there’s going to be a lot of work that needs to be put in, not only from him but from our coaching staff to get him up to speed, but we’ll let him kind of come in here and compete to play.”
Smith wasn’t available to practice on Thursday, and LaFleur said it’s “highly unlikely” that Smith would play for the Packers (3-1) as soon as Sunday’s game in Cincinnati (3-1).
When defensive coordinator Joe Barry spoke to reporters late Thursday afternoon, he still hadn’t met Smith. Barry said teaching the verbiage will be the starting point.
“He’s a good football player,” Packers linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said after meeting Smith for the first time. “He’s played a ton of football. He can do a lot of different things. To be quite honest, we’ll find out more once we get our hands on him a little bit.”
Smith made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement in 2019 and led the Cowboys in tackles each of the past two seasons. He had nine tackles against Green Bay during the Packers’ 34-24 victory at Dallas in 2019.
“I remember he was a bad dude in there,” Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “He was definitely somebody we had to account for sideline to sideline, being a force in the middle, so excited to have him on the team.”
Smith's performance had dipped over the past year. Smith played just 16 snaps in a season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the Cowboys cleared the way for rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft.
The Cowboys released Smith at the same time they anticipated getting linebacker Keanu Neal back after the converted safety missed two games because of a positive COVID-19 test.
“I like him as a person, and he’s a super like friendly, happy guy, even on the field,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday when he was asked about Smith.
“He’s a fierce competitor, but he always has a smile on his face. So I appreciate that about him, and it was just more of a respectful competitor-to-competitor conversation after the game.
“I haven’t heard if anything’s been done yet, but in general, I think anytime you add a veteran player to a team, there’s the possibility of a guy getting an opportunity who’s played football before at a high level, and sometimes it just takes an environment switch for some of those guys to play their best football.”
Smith’s pending move to Green Bay would reunite him with LaFleur, who spent the 2014 season as Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach when Smith was starring for the Fighting Irish.
Smith won the Butkus Award as college football’s most outstanding linebacker the following year, but suffered a severe knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl that dropped him into the second round of the 2016 draft and caused him to miss his entire rookie season.
LaFleur said that Smith was one of his favorite players during his year at Notre Dame.
“He’s got a great presence, No. 1,” LaFleur said. “He’s got an infectious personality. He’s a guy that everybody on the team really gravitated to, was a great leader not only by example but vocal as well. And then he was a pretty damn good player, too. He was the complete package.”
While the Packers seemed on the verge of welcoming a veteran inside linebacker, they also likely lost a reserve outside linebacker for the rest of the season. LaFleur said Chauncey Rivers suffered a significant knee injury during Wednesday’s practice and was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
“My heart goes out to him because I think he was really doing a great job,” LaFleur said. “He was battling. He was getting us snaps on defense, playing on special teams. He came to work every day with a great attitude, a great mentality, was a great teammate in the locker room.”
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