Za’Darius Smith Wants to See Aaron Rodgers’ Face
The momentous offseason move by the Minnesota Vikings to prove they’re “in it to win it” was the free-agent acquisition of Za’Darius Smith.
Smith, 29, defected from the Green Bay Packers this spring, joining the neighboring-state rival Vikings on a three-year contract.
And now, he’s excited to see former teammate Aaron Rodgers’ face.
When? Why? How? Let’s begin with the when. The Vikings will play the Packers in Week 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The NFL decided new Minnesota skipper Kevin O’Connell needed baptism by fire during his first game as a head coach. Therefore, Minnesota hosts Green Bay on September 11th, the first time in franchise history that the Vikings will play the Packers at home in a Week 1 game with fans in attendance.
So, Smith can see Rodgers’ face early in the 2022 campaign. And he’s looking forward to it, telling Rich Eisen this week, “I can’t wait to get a chance to face them the first game and see that look on Aaron Rodgers’ face when he sees me on the other side of the ball. It’s going to be a, ‘It’s good to see you again, but now, it’s not at practice.'”
What about the why? Well, former players love to exact revenge on their old teams. It’s a sports tradition that reads something like, “You didn’t want me, huh? Well, I’m going to stick it to you.” Call it a retribution factor.
Other mini-examples of the mentality will be on display in 2022 when Kirk Cousins travels to Washington for his first away game against the Commanders in the nation’s capital. Cousins led the Commanders offense for three seasons before the organization let him hit free agency. Then, a few weeks later, Stefon Diggs will get a chance to torch the Vikings in Buffalo. Diggs played for five seasons in Minnesota, ultimately forcing his way out via trade — one that netted the Vikings a wide receiver named Justin Jefferson.
And the how of seeing Rodgers’ face — this will come from on-the-field pressure and perhaps carnage. Za’Darius Smith has never played against Aaron Rodgers on a regular season football field, so his comments above reflect the unique, first-of-its-kind nature of the opportunity.
While playing for the Baltimore Ravens in 2017, Smith took on the Packers, with his Ravens defeating the Wisconsin team in a 23-0 shutout — but Brett Hundley was the quarterback.
Smith will have triple motivation when Week 1 rolls around. First, it’s his birthday weekend. He’ll turn 30 three days before seeing Rodgers’ face. It’s also his time to make a first impression on Vikings fans because Minnesota plays Green Bay immediately in the season. And, there’s the aforementioned revenge factor that Smith mentioned to Eisen.
If Smith and his pal Danielle Hunter stay healthy — that’s a big if based on recent injury history — the Vikings will employ a Top 3 EDGE-rushing tandem leaguewide.
Maybe Hunter can see Rodgers’ face a couple of times, too.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).