The Green Bay Packers indirectly answered one of our spring questions with a relatively surprising announcement Wednesday evening: They released linebacker D.J. Smith, a promising young player who started nine games over two seasons and was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last October.
The move helps explain why the Packers re-signed linebacker Brad Jones to a three-year contract earlier this spring, a deal that will pay him at least $4 million in 2013. Jones figured as a backup linebacker and special-teams player if the rest of the Packers' linebacker crew were healthy, but that does not appear to be the case.
We can only assume that Smith's injury was more serious than originally thought, so much so that the Packers doubt if he will play again. If you remember, this is about the time last year when the Packers released left tackle Chad Clifton and safety Nick Collins because of health reasons.
Perhaps there is more going on here than we know. But absent the presumed severity of Smith's injury, I can't think of another reason to release a third-year player who by all accounts had impressed coaches before the injury. Smith was going to count $580,788 against the Packers' 2013 cap, a pittance that I highly doubt was part of this decision.
Chances are that Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk will be the Packers' starting inside linebackers when training camp begins, but Jones now figures as a more important reserve, and perhaps a hedge against Bishop's own recovery from last year's torn leg muscle. Indeed, rare is a team that will pay $4 million to a special teams-only player.