Za’Darius Smith Might Be Dropping Clues

Coming into the 2022 season, it was hard not to be excited about the Minnesota Vikings signing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. Although he dealt with injury during his final season in Green Bay, pairing him with Danielle Hunter looked exciting. Now having his house on the market, it seems his time in purple may be done.

After Ed Donatell was fired this offseason, questions surrounding Minnesota’s defense began to mount immediately. There was no shortage of uncertainty regarding who may return, and it was only recently that Brian Flores was named the man in charge. For Minnesota, a re-up with Za’Darius Smith was uncertain, even if his initial deal was for three years.

Za’Darius Smith Might Be Dropping Clues

Signed to a three-year deal worth $42 million, the dead cap number in 2023 is just over $3 million. Should the Vikings keep him around for a second season, his cap hit would leap from $3.3 million in 2022 to nearly $17 million in 2023. That’s a substantial increase, and for a guy who was ineffective in the second half, potentially a hard pill to swallow.

There is certainly no finality to this situation yet, but putting a house on the market seems to suggest Smith is aware of the Vikings intentions. They will become more known in the coming weeks and days, but it appears that the Hunter and Smith combination will have only lasted for a single season.

Might Be Dropping
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates after a sack in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

It’s hard to suggest that Flores couldn’t use the pair. It sounds as though Minnesota will remain primarily a 3-4 front, but things will be more gameplan specific. There were times last year when Donatell was putting either Hunter or Smith in coverage, which doesn’t seem like a sensible use of their skillset. The pass rush was often not utilized to bring down the quarterback, and the Vikings secondary was exposed.

Should Smith need to find a new home for 2023, he’ll again face concerns about his health. That was the chief question when coming to Minnesota from Green Bay, and the edge openly admitted to playing through knee issues down the stretch. He noted that Hunter picked up the slack and was able to provide pressure, but neither player truly clicked at the same time last year.

Za'Darius Smith Renews Vow for Vengeance on Sunday
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

If Minnesota is going to provide additional help for their inexperienced secondary, it may need to come in the form of getting to the quarterback. By letting opposing offenses have less time to dissect the defense and sit in the pocket, the secondary could find themselves in more advantageous scenarios.

We will have to take a wait-and-see approach with Smith and what this means regarding his roster spot, but the tea leaves are certainly starting to talk. at least in whispers. The expectation is that multiple veterans on Minnesota’s roster may not be there to start 2023. This could be one of the first.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.