The Cleveland Browns swung big to add a big-time playmaker to its front seven.
Browns general manager Andrew Berry made a bold move Friday, May 12, acquiring veteran pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings that the organization hopes significantly bolsters its pass-rush, but not everyone is convinced Smith will be a game-changer.
“We’ll see how it goes for the Browns,” an NFC pro personnel director told Heavy, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team. “Za’Darius has been beat up and been on the decline a bit. The price Cleveland paid might tell you everything you need to know.”
Cleveland acquired Smith in exchange for a pair of fifth-round picks; one in the 2024 NFL draft, and one in 2025. Minnesota also sent Cleveland its sixth-round and seventh-round picks in 2025, as part of the trade.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old veteran reworked his contract with the Browns shortly after the trade and is due $11.75 million guaranteed on a one-year deal for the 2023 campaign.
“I really hope it works out,” the executive said, “because he’s been a really good player, and I respect the hell out of him.”
After just one season in Minnesota, Smith requested a trade from the Vikings, which resulted in Friday’s trade, and a new contract.
Smith arrives in Cleveland fresh off a 2022 campaign that saw him produce 10 sacks, 53 hurries, and 78 total pressures in 495 pass-rush snaps while garnering an 84.7 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus.
Why Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns Makes Sense
Smith has appeared in three Pro Bowls while being named a second-team All-Pro in 2020.
Smith has been one of the NFL’s most prolific sack artists the past several seasons, producing 36.0 sacks since 2019, despite appearing in only one game in 2021 after undergoing back surgery.
Last season, Smith returned to form, and the Browns are banking on him once again making a significant impact during the 2023 campaign. In Cleveland, Smith will play opposite All-Pro Myles Garrett, who has averaged nearly 12.5 sacks per season throughout his six-year career.
“[Smith]’s really the ideal replacement for Jadeveon Clowney,” an AFC Scouting Director told Heavy.
In 107 career games, Smith has taken up residency in opposing backfields. The 2015 fourth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens has compiled 271 tackles, 54.5 sacks, 68 tackles for loss, with 12 pass breakups.
Landing in a defense that features Garrett should free Smith from double-teams that he’d otherwise faced throughout his career with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, and he fills a significant need after the Browns managed only 34 sacks as a team last fall.
The acquisition of Za’Darius Smith could prove to be a game-changing move for the Browns’ defense if he can stay healthy.
While some have expressed doubts about Smith’s recent performance and injury history, his track record as a productive and disruptive pass-rusher speaks for itself. Paired with All-Pro Myles Garrett on the opposite side of the defensive line, Smith should have ample opportunities to make an impact on the Browns’ pass rush and help elevate a defense that finished 14th in total defense, allowing 331.2 yards per game.
Trading for Smith signals that the Browns are serious about keeping pace in an AFC North arms race that includes quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and a rebuilding Steelers offense led by second-year passer Kenny Pickett, and that the organization is all in on winning with defense. Now it’s up to Smith to deliver.