3-Time Vikings Pro Bowler Demands Release, At Odds With Team: Report

Kevin O'Connell, Vikings

Getty Head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings edge rusher Za’Darius Smith posted a cryptic farewell post on social media that has unveiled a conflict with the three-time Pro Bowler and his team.

Smith posted a pair of photos, thanking Vikings fans, teammates and coaches on Twitter. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported later on March 9 that Smith “informed the team he wants to be released.”

However, the Vikings have no intentions of releasing Smith, who they signed to a three-year, $42 million contract last March. Rapoport added that Minnesota “has no plans to do that. The situation remains unresolved.”

Rapoport’s report confirms weeks of speculation that Smith is on his way out of the Vikings organization. Smith put his Eagan, Minnesota, home on the market last month and also deleted all team-related photos on his Instagram earlier in the offseason.

There haven’t been any further details on why Smith wants to leave Minnesota after he made the third Pro Bowl of his career and first as a Viking this past season. Smith posted 10.0 sacks and the fourth-most pressures (78) in the league and made good on his promise in helping the Vikings dethrone his former Green Bay Packers as NFC North champions this season.

Za’Darius Smith’s Contract Has its Problems

Based on Smith’s production for the 2022 season, he is slated to be underpaid this year, which could be the source of his desire to leave. Smith is on the books for roughly $15.5 million for the 2023 season, which is the 20th-highest cap hit among edge rushers.

His production last season would warrant a better deal, however, a knee injury he was hampered with in the latter half of the season is cause for concern. Smith was the league sack leader through eight weeks and earned October Defensive Player of the Month honors before he tallied just one more sack in the final seven games of the season.

However, Smith remained a consistent force in the pass rush, evidenced by his top-five pressure numbers. Sacks don’t tell the whole story.

If Smith’s grievances are with his current deal, Minnesota may need to work out a contract restructure that benefits the 30-year-old veteran.

Smith showed last offseason he has no fear in betting on himself. After the Packers made a cap-saving move by cutting Smith last March, he agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Ravens before backing out of that deal and signing with Minnesota.

This offseason, it may not be the amount of money but guarantees that Smith is stuck on. His pay is largely based on base salaries with few guarantees.

If the Vikings release Smith, they would have to eat only $3.33 million in dead cap compared to $12.16 million in cap space saved, per Over The Cap. But premiere edge rushers don’t grow on trees, especially at Smith’s rate.

Minnesota could accelerate some earnings onto this season’s books, it would lower his 2024 cap hit (currently $21.66 million) as well and help the Vikings create a more sustainable deal for the veteran edge rusher.

 Vikings Should Draft Pass-Rushers Despite Smith’s Future

Danielle Hunter is up for a contract extension this offseason, making the possibility of paying Smith more tricky.

Regardless of how they approach their offseason dealings, the Vikings need more pass-rushing depth after much of the talent has been vacated amid the change to a 3-4 base defense. D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones II are the only rotational edge rusher who made an impact last season.

Fortunately, the 2023 edge rusher class is a deep group that could play in the Vikings’ favor given the little draft capital they have to work with this offseason.

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