Za'Darius Smith has left three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, including a pair of Pro Bowl campaigns, behind him, but he's taking some ill will toward the franchise with him to Minnesota.
Smith, who played in just one game during the 2021 season due to a back injury, believes he was treated poorly in his third and final season with the Pack and is happy to have the opportunity to vent his frustrations playing for the Vikings against his old squad on Sunday.
"I played one year of high school football," Smith told Go Long’s Tyler Dunne, via Packersnews.com. "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, who said he injured his back during weightlifting early in 2021 training camp, made it clear he did not believe he was viewed in a good light last year.
"How I was (perceived) here in the building, I came down to here, to a nobody," Smith said. "To everybody in building. I was like, 'Damn, why am I being treated like this?'"
It was an unfortunate end to what was previously a perfect fit for Smith.
Having begun his career with four seasons playing for the Baltimore Ravens, Smith was a productive linebacker who started 16 games, played in 58 overall and posted 18.5 sacks. He signed with Green Bay ahead of the 2019 season and his production exploded. Over his first two years with the Packers, Smith combined for 26 sacks and earned his aforementioned two Pro Bowl bids.
After the unceremonious conclusion in 2021, Smith appeared to be headed back to Baltimore on a four-year, $35 million contract, but changed course and eventually signed with the Vikings for three years and $42 million.
Now he's lining up opposite a healthy Danielle Hunter and there's excitement kindled on the front line.
Thus, there's plenty of optimism looking ahead for Smith and the 2022 Vikings, but the pass rusher is no doubt looking back for plenty of motivation as a season opener against his former squad awaits.
"Walking past me not saying nothing," Smith said. "(Not) '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."