New Cleveland Browns pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith is ready to conquer the AFC North.
Smith was traded to the Browns on May 12, with the Browns sending a pair of fifth-round picks to the Minnesota Vikings for the Pro Bowl sack artist. Cleveland also got a sixth-round pick and a seventh-round pick in 2025 as part of the exchange.
Smith has a list of goals for his first year in Cleveland and at the top of it is taking home the AFC North crown — something that has eluded the Browns since 1989.
“Hey Cleveland! This is Za’Darius Smith,” he said in a tweet posted on the Browns social media accounts. “I’m so happy to be a Brown. I can’t wait to get started.
“Rule No. 1. The first thing we gotta do is take the division. After that, we’ll go to the playoffs, baby.”
The Browns made the postseason in 2020 in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s first year but have missed out on the playoffs the last two seasons. The Browns will run out one of their most talented rosters — on paper — in a long time, with the addition of Smith being the latest key addition.
Za’Darius Smith Wanted Out of Minnesota
Smith got off to a scorching start last season with 8.5 sacks in his first seven games, finishing with 10 and being named to his third Pro Bowl. Smith wanted a new contract and made it clear that he wanted out of Minnesota, posting a goodbye message.
“I just want to say ‘Thank you!’ to Skol Nation for an amazing season & experience! Thank you to all of my teammates, coaches & the entire Minnesota Vikings Organization!” he wrote on Twitter.
The Browns did not have to take on much of a financial burden to land Smith, with some high upside if he can produce double-digit sacks. Smith restructured his deal after the trade and the 30-year-old will be a free agent at the end of the year with the opportunity to cash in.
Smith will make $11.75 million fully guaranteed in 2023. The Vikings are set to eat around $1.17 million of that and Smith will count just $3.03 million against the cap, per Field Yates of ESPN.
Browns to Utilize Ogbo Okorowonko in Pass-Rush Rotation
The addition of Smith might shuffle the top of the depth chart at defensive end but free agent signing Ogbo Okorowonko is still expected to be a large part of the game plan, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
“Oddly enough, the fact the Browns have a new double-digit sacker in town doesn’t adversely impact Okoronkwo, who will still likely get as many snaps as he would’ve,” Cabot wrote following the deal. “The Browns have known all along that they’d acquire a proven third rusher to rotate with Garrett and Okoronkwo, and if it wasn’t Smith, it would’ve been former Rams edge rusher Melvin Ingram III or someone else.”
Having a threat opposite of Myles Garrett was a big deal for the Browns, who want him to see fewer bodies in front of him. Despite being one of the most double-teamed players in the NFL last season, Garrett notched 16 sacks, tying his own single-season franchise record.