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Packers set to add LB Jaylon Smith after missing out on CB Stephon Gilmore

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packers notes photo 10-6

Linebacker Jaylon Smith led the Cowboys with 154 tackles last season.

GREEN BAY — One big-name player would be better than none, right?

Now the Green Bay Packers will have to see whether ex-Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Jaylon Smith’s level of play will match his name recognition.

Just hours after watching 2019 NFL defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore go from the New England Patriots to the Carolina Panthers in a trade on Wednesday afternoon — after the Packers had serious interest in Gilmore had he been released, as had been expected — NFL Network reported that the Packers and Smith were closing in on a deal that was expected to become official on Thursday.

A league source confirmed that the sides were working on a deal Wednesday evening but said nothing was imminent yet.

Smith had fallen down the Cowboys’ linebacker rotation less than two years removed from being selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019.

Smith was a favorite of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who drafted Smith after he suffered a catastrophic knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith had been expected to be one of the top picks in the 2016 NFL draft but fell to the second round where the Cowboys selected him.

After sitting out his rookie season while recovering from the injury, he started six games in 2017, then blossomed in 2018, recording 121 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a touchdown on a fumble return.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Smith followed that with a 142-tackle, 2.5-sack, one-interception season in 2019, earning that Pro Bowl selection. Last year, he had 154 tackles, an interception and 1.5 sacks, and from 2018 through 2020, he didn’t miss a game. He signed a five-year, $64 million extension ($35.5 million guaranteed) before the 2019 season.

“I like him as a person,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s a super-friendly, happy guy, even on the field. He’s a fierce competitor, but he always has a smile on his face. So, I appreciate that about him.

“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.”

This season, Smith had fallen down the depth chart after the Cowboys remade the position by signing Keanu Neal in free agency and selecting Micah Parsons (first round) and Jabril Cox (fourth round) in the draft. Through four games, Smith had 18 tackles and had played only 148 snaps.

The Packers have been happy with veteran De’Vondre Campbell, whom they signed in June as a free agent and who has gotten off to a strong start with 40 tackles and two turnover plays (one interception, one fumble recovery) through four games. But after second-year linebacker Krys Barnes suffered a concussion at San Francisco two weeks ago and missed last Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh, the Packers must not have felt great about how Oren Burks and Ty Summers looked in his place. Burks and Summers are key special teams contributors but have been limited in their defensive snaps.

Smith’s $.7.2 million salary for this season was guaranteed, so the Cowboys have to pay that full amount, meaning the Packers likely got Smith for around the NFL’s veteran minimum.

“Really, this wasn’t an easy decision,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said of releasing Smith. “He’s a good football player. He’s played excellent football here for a long time, but we have a (new defensive) system. I think it’s clear now after four games how we’re playing.”

Extra points

Three players didn’t take part in practice: Cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder), left tackle Elgton Jenkins (ankle) and center Josh Myers (finger). Myers has been on the injury report for several weeks with the finger injury, but this marked the first time he did not practice because of it. … Running back Aaron Jones (ankle), cornerback Kevin King (concussion), outside linebacker Chauncey Rivers (knee) and defensive tackle Jack Heflin (ankle) were limited. … Barnes (concussion), running back AJ Dillon (back), defensive end Dean Lowry (ankle) and cornerback Isaac Yiadom (quadriceps) practiced in full. ... Washington signed former Packers tight end Jace Sternberger, a 2019 third-round pick who was released after serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Photos: Packers' 2021 season in pictures

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