Za’Darius Smith Speaks to Fans After Vikings Trade Him to Browns

Za'Darius Smith, Vikings

Getty Edge rusher Za'Darius Smith, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, reacts to a play during training camp in August 2022.

Za’Darius Smith hasn’t been shy about moving on once he believes the time has come. He did so before joining the Minnesota Vikings, and repeated himself after leaving.

Smith asked Minnesota for his release on March 9, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. On Tuesday, May 16, Smith took to Twitter with a message for fans of his new team, the Cleveland Browns.

“Hey Cleveland! This is Za’Darius Smith. I’m so happy to be a Brown. I can’t wait to get started,” Smith said, per the Browns Twitter account. “Rule No. 1 — the first thing we gotta do is take the division. After that, we’ll go to the playoffs, baby.”

Smith made similar comments to Vikings Nation after the Green Bay Packers traded him to Minnesota last offseason.

“I’m happy to be here, to be a Minnesota Viking. I want to thank the coaching staff, [general manager], the ownership for blessing me with this opportunity,” Smith said during his introductory press conference on March 22, 2022. “First thing to work on is winning the [NFC] North. I’m going to come in and do everything I need to do to help this team improve.”

Za’Darius Smith Wanted out of Minnesota for More Lucrative Contract With Browns

Za'Darius Smith, Vikings

GettyThe Minnesota Vikings traded linebacker Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns on Friday, May 12, 2023.

Smith did keep his word, amassing 10 sacks and 37 quarterback pressures in 16 regular season games last season, per Pro Football Reference, as the Vikings won the division and hosted a playoff game. But how hard he pushed for a way out of Minnesota after just one year suggests the “opportunity” the Vikings afforded him was less of a “blessing” than he previously led on.

One issue was certainly money. Smith signed a three-year, $42 million deal with Minnesota after the Packers traded him there. Before that deal, Smith played three seasons of a four-year contract in Green Bay worth $66 million total.

After landing in Cleveland, Smith restructured his deal so as to earn more guaranteed money in 2023 and become an unrestricted free agent following the season.

“Smith was previously under contract with the Vikings [through] 2024 with a $9.4 million salary [and] only $5 million guaranteed in 2023,” Rapoport tweeted on May 12. “Now? $11.75 million fully guaranteed money in 2023.”

ESPN’s Field Yates reported on Tuesday that Smith can earn up to $13 million on the deal with incentives and that the Vikings will foot the bill for nearly $1.2 million of Smith’s salary next season by paying for his signing bonus.

Vikings Cashed out on Za’Darius Smith at Opportune Time

GettyEdge rusher Za’Darius Smith, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, will play with the Cleveland Browns on a restructured contract in 2023.

All told, the Vikings saved just shy of $11 million against the 2023 salary cap by trading Smith when they did.

Smith will turn 31 years old in September and will be looking for a long-term deal once his free agency arrives in March 2024. The linebacker started off the season on a tear, though amassed just 1.5 sacks across his final eight appearances last year.

Smith missed only one game during the 2022 campaign but sat out nearly all of 2021 with a back injury that required surgery. The team that signs Smith next offseason could well end up paying him above his value for one campaign, or several, on the far end of the contract.

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