One Vikings Acquisition Made List of Top 5 Offseason Moves

Draft Plan Just Got
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings’ defense was the clear Achilles heel of the team in 2020 and 2021, and the newly hired general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah needed to bring in some playmakers. That problem was acknowledged in the front office, and the Vikings made the requisite moves and signed some playmakers.

Patrick Peterson played for the purple team in 2021 and performed like an average cornerback. Following his one-year deal, the Vikings re-signed Peterson to another one-year contract, this time for only $4 million, a salary that Peterson outplayed. He is the best Vikings cornerback, and without him, the defense would be in big trouble.

One Vikings Acquisition
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

While Peterson didn’t make the Pro Bowl roster, a different Vikings addition did. Za’Darius Smith played for the Packers for three seasons, and the disruptive pass rusher ruined a few Vikings games. However, in a move to save cap space, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst released Smith, and he planned to sign with the Ravens, the team that drafted him.

One Vikings Acquisition Made List of Top 5 Offseason Moves

A few days later, the deal fell through, possibly because he liked the structure of the Vikings contract better. Another reason was probably that the Vikings hired his former coach Mike Smith as linebackers coach and pass rush specialist. Smith entered the building for a highly-advertised free agency visit, and a couple of days later, the Vikings officially signed him. just named the signing as the fifth-best offseason move.

The Vikings defense is one of the worst in the NFL, but how bad would Minnesota be if Smith wasn’t on the unit? Smith leads the NFL with 72 pressures and has 10 sacks on the season to go with 21 quarterback hits. The Vikings are 17th in the league with 33 sacks, as Smith is responsible for 30.3% of the team output.

– Jeff Kerr | CBS Sports

Smith has played a fantastic season. The Vikings needed his pass-rushing ability and positive energy in the locker room.

12 Snap Reactions after Dolphins-Vikings
Miami Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) gets sacked by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith. © JIM RASSOL/THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell does not like to blitz a lot, so the Vikings need to win up front with a four-man rush. Smith is lining up all across the line and is scary in every spot.

The only player in the league with 50 hurries this season, Smith has only had Danielle Hunter to help him out in the pass rush. While Smith only has a 0.5 sack and 17 pressures in his last five games, he still is the player opposing offensive lines have to stop every week. 

– Jeff Kerr | CBS Sports

Hunter is slowly returning to his old self after a slow start, likely caused by his position change and the scheme change in general. The duo is one of the elite edge rusher duos in the league. Their numbers would even be higher if the secondary could cover at a higher level.

Kerr once again emphasized the importance of Smith: “Again, where would the Vikings be without Smith? That three-year, $42 million deal appears to be a huge bargain for his production.” 

All National Power Rankings
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates with linebacker Danielle Hunter. © Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The contract sounds hefty initially, but the league’s salaries rose to an extremely high level. Smith is a top playmaker and deserves that money. Most important for the Vikings was the contract structure. The salary cap hit in 2022 is just over $3.3 million, so the team could still acquire other players in free agency. In addition, the Vikings secured the option to cut him after the season without huge future cap problems. The dead cap hit would’ve been just over $3.3 million if the Vikings were to cut him after the 2022 season.

That was important because Smith suffered from injuries in 2021, especially back injuries are always scary for athletes and risky for teams. Smith’s cap hit will rise to more than $15 million in 2023 and over $21 million in 2024. What sounds like a lot of money reflects his level of play. Contract restructures are always possible.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt