The Vikings Traded Za’Darius Smith — Now What?

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Some folks panicked. Others expected it. The rest shrugged shoulders.

Za’Darius Smith is no longer employed by the Minnesota Vikings, traded to the Cleveland Browns on Friday night for two 5th-Round picks. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah also shipped a 6th- and 7th-Rounder to the Browns along with Smith.

The Vikings Traded Za’Darius Smith — Now What?

So — now what? Are the Vikings damned? Will the sky fall? The answer is no to both, and here’s why.

It’s Marcus Davenport Time

Boom or Bust
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Listen, guys and gals. The Vikings planned for this — like four days after Smith tweeted his now-infamous goodbye to all Minnesotans.

Marcus Davenport isn’t a reservist player; he’s a 1st-Round draft pick with high upside. He’s also compensated to the tune of $13 million per season in Minnesota. The Vikings inked Davenport to a one-year prove-it deal, which can be extended next February or March.

It should’ve been crystal-clear on March 13th when Adofo-Mensah signed Davenport that Smith’s days were numbered. No one quite knows why the Vikings waited two-plus months to trade him, but that’s water under the bridge.

Assuming Minnesota would employ Danielle Hunter, Davenport, and Smith was silly. That’s a lot of money allocated to EDGE rushers — it would’ve been the most expensive pass-rushing group in the world — so a Smith trade or release was seemingly inevitable.

The Vikings signed Davenport at a starter’s pricetag, and now he will start. Pretty straightforward.

Make Way for Patrick Jones and Andre Carter

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And what happens if Davenport gets hurt or flat-out stinks? Well, the Vikings will introduce their finest Joneses and Carters. Jones enters Year Three in the league, creating some splashy plays in 2022. He recorded a 62.5 Pro Football Focus grade, a modest score that can either climb or diminish in 2023.

After Jones, Minnesota has D.J. Wonnum entering his rookie contract’s final year. He’s a decent reservist pass rusher. The catchy-named Luiji Viilain, too, will attempt to make the 53-man roster.

But all the spring buzz for now after Hunter, Davenport, and Jones nominates Army’s Andre Carter as the fascinating next guy. Carter curiously wasn’t drafted last month, and most draft heads wouldn’t have been surprised if he flew off the board in Round 4 or 5. Carter will try to make the active roster and then some, an assignment now more tantalizing with Smith ‘out of the way.’

Minnesota has commendable options after Hunter and Davenport (and, of course, Smith) on the depth chart.

Time to Draft an EDGE; It’s Been a While

Lottery Ticket QB
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The other part of Smith’s departure that will fly under the radar is that it kinda-sorta forces the team’s hand. How? Well, no Vikings general manager has drafted an EDGE rusher in Round 1 or 2 of the draft in 18 years. The last guy was Erasmus James in 2005.

Minnesota has escaped scrutiny by trading for Jared Allen (2008) while developing Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, and Danielle Hunter in the last two decades. Tip of the cap, indeed.

Yet, it’s probably time to get some early-round EDGE studs in the clubhouse. Other teams aren’t skittish about building the defensive trenches with draft capital. The Vikings luck, at some point, will probably run out when developing mid-round outside linebackers or signing free agents.

Smith’s exodus points to a 1st- or 2nd-Round EDGE rusher on the agenda in the next couple of drafts — especially if Davenport isn’t as good as advertised.


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,’ and The Doors (the band).

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

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