One Viking Balled Out with New Team in Week 1

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Do you remember when former Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Za’Darius Smith exploded onto the Minneapolis scene one year ago and then slightly fizzled down the stretch of the 2022 season?

One Viking Balled Out with New Team in Week 1

That may be happening again — well, the first part, for sure, is underway.

The Vikings traded Smith to the Browns in May, about two months after he tweeted a goodbye on the X app to Minnesotans, thanking them for hospitality and memories. Smith was under contract for two more seasons in Minnesota but had evidently grown disgruntled and forced his way out.

One Viking Balled out
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Now, Smith is thriving in Cleveland, at least for one game, alongside former Vikings defender Dalvin Tomlinson and ex-Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who is the Browns head coach.

Cleveland suffocated the rival Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, winning 24-3 at home against the other Ohio team and positioning itself in a wonderful spot inside an ultra-competitive AFC North. And Smith was a large part of the success in Week 1, tallying 6 quarterback pressures on Joe Burrow and a couple of tackles.

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Smith, 31, also fired up an otherworldly 90.5 Pro Football Focus grade versus the Bengals, the fourth-best leaguewide among EDGE rushers to start the season. The feisty defender played marvelously, and if one lamented the Vikings bowing to his trade request months ago, that person is vindicated for one week. Smith delivered.

Tomlinson, who played for the Vikings in 2021 and 2022, compiled a 65.6 PFF score.

Outcry over
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In May, after the trade to Cleveland, Smith told about the Vikings contract, “For one, it wasn’t set up right. Going through Green Bay my last year, I had the injury, and a lot of teams started to say this and that about Z, but it wasn’t about that. I’m always a team guy. You can call any player from any facility that I’ve been in and ask them about who Z really is. But a lot of people make stories up, and it just didn’t work out. I hated that.”

Smith was a beast to start 2022, tabulating 9 sacks in the first 10 weeks and even garnering fringe Defensive Player of the Year attention. But then injuries set in, and the sacks died off, but the QB pressures remained stable.

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The new Brown delivered a crystal-clear explanation regarding his resentment of the Vikings agreement, “It was the guaranteed part. The first year was only guaranteed. So, I mean, now I’m basically in the same situation, but it’s OK now, because I can get a chance to go in the free agency next year.”

From the moment Smith signed in Minnesota, the contract was deemed ‘team-friendly,’ so it’s no surprise that the 2023 offseason arrived, and the player disliked the terms. One might wonder why he signed on the Vikings dotted line in the first place.

Smith finished the explanation about his contract that caused him to skedaddle, “A lot of people didn’t know, in my contract, I had it to where I had to play every game to get my bonus. So certain situations, coaches were telling me give it all you can and then we’ll just rest you from there. So I wasn’t as effective as I was at the beginning of the season, but I’m all healthy now. Ready to go.”

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah received two 5th-Round picks for Smith while also shipping a 6th- and 7th-Rounder to Cleveland.

The Browns hit the road for a date with their other rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Monday Night Football in Week 2. Pittsburgh employs one of the least efficient offensive lines in the business.

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 Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by