Vikings Trade Edge Rusher Za’Darius Smith to AFC for 2 Picks

Za'Darius Smith, Vikings

Getty The Minnesota Vikings traded linebacker Za'Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns on Friday, May 12, 2023.

After just one season, the Minnesota Vikings have traded edge rusher Za’Darius Smith.

The franchise reached an agreement on Friday, May 12, to send the prolific pass rusher to the Cleveland Browns. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport broke the news on Twitter.

“The #Viking

s are trading three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Za’Darius Smith to the #Browns, sources tell me and @TomPelissero,” Rapoport wrote. “His reworked deal guarantees him $11.75 million in 2023 and he’ll be a [free agent] next March. Deal negotiated by his new agent @ErikBurkhardt of @RocNationSports.”

Pelissero followed up just minutes later, reporting that the Vikings will receive two fifth-round draft choices from the Browns in 2024 and 2025 in return for Smith. Along with the edge rusher, Minnesota sent Cleveland its sixth-round and seventh-round picks in 2025.

Za’Darius Smith Angled for Release From Vikings

Za' Darius Smith

GettyFormer Minnesota Vikings edge rusher Za’Darius Smith (left) and teammate Danielle Hunter (right) participate in drills during training camp in August 2022.

That the Vikings moved Smith isn’t a huge surprise, but that they brought back only a couple of fifth-round picks in return is something of a disappointment.

Smith has earned trips to the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons. He tallied 13.5 sacks and 12.5 sacks as a member of the Green Bay Packers in 2019 and 2020, respectively. He missed most of the 2022 campaign with a back injury that required surgery, after which the Packers dealt him to the Vikings.

Minnesota fielded one of the better edge rushing duos last year with Smith lined up across from Danielle Hunter, another three-time Pro Bowler. Both earned the honor for the third time in 2022, as Smith amassed 10 sacks and 37 quarterback pressures, while Hunter tallied 10.5 sacks and 34 quarterback pressures.

Despite his personal success, which helped the Vikings to a 13-4 record, an NFC North Division title and a playoff berth, Smith did not appear happy with his playing situation following the season.

Smith deleted Vikings imagery from his social media accounts, put his Minnesota home on the market, and publicly requested his release from the team — all early in the offseason process. It took a couple of months, but the Vikings made Smith’s desire a reality on Friday.

The move clears a lot of cap space in Minnesota, opening up nearly $12.2 million on the balance sheet in 2023. The Vikings will also be forced to eat $3.3 million in dead money following the deal.

Initial projections ball parked Smith’s trade value in the neighborhood of a fourth- or fifth-round pick. As such, two fifth-round selections on their own represent a decent return. However, the Vikings’ decision to include a couple of lesser draft assets in the deal makes the agreement less attractive overall.

New Deal for Danielle Hunter Now Crucial for Vikings

Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings

GettyEdge rusher Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates a play during a game against the Detroit Lions in October 2021.

Signing Hunter to a long-term extension now becomes a crucial element of the Vikings’ offseason.

Hunter pulled a similar move to one of Smith’s by deleting Minnesota-related content from his social media accounts in mid-April. That may have been nothing more than a negotiating tactic, as he seeks a new, long-term deal this offseason. Hunter is entering the fifth and final year of a $72 million contract with the Vikings this season.

Smith’s trade also brings some clarity as to why the Vikings chose to guarantee linebacker Andre Carter II $300,000 in base salary after signing him earlier this month as an undrafted free agent out of Army. Carter put up 18 sacks over his final two years in college and is currently participating in the Vikings’ rookie minicamp.

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