Why Za’Darius Smith Left the Vikings

Smith Unveils
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The Minnesota Vikings traded Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns on May 12, sending the pass rusher to the AFC along with a 2025 6th-Round pick and a 2025 7th-Round, in exchange for two 5th-Rounders heading to Minnesota.

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah also saved about $10 million in cap space.

Why Za’Darius Smith Left the Vikings

Sixty-four days before that, Smith tweeted goodbye to the Vikings fans and the state of Minnesota, capping a one-year stint with the purple and gold team. And folks wondered why.

Smith Left
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Well, there is now an answer from the man’s lips — Smith wanted more guaranteed money. His contract in Minnesota was incentive-laden, and barreling toward age 31, the EDGE rusher desired a bit more security.

He spoke to NFL.com this week 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.”

Outcry over
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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.

The new Brown delivered a crystal-clear explanation regarding his disgruntlement with 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.”

2022 Vikings Basic Betting Odds Tracker
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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.”

World Reacts to Vikings
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If a player has incentives — so, money — baked into a contract according to performance, he must play come hell or high water to maximize his pocketbook. The notion of ‘giving it your all and then take some rest’ wouldn’t resonate for a person on a commission-based contract. Why would it?

Evidently, the Vikings front office was content with Smith’s deal as-is. And when he tweeted the infamous goodbye right before the start of free agency, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah promptly scooped Marcus Davenport for ‘Smith’s job,’ and that was that.

Smith joins three notable former Vikings personalities in Cleveland — Kellen Mond (QB), Kevin Stefanski (HC), and Dalvin Tomlinson (DT).

The Browns ranked 23rd leaguewide in 2022 per defensive DVOA.

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 OverTheCap.com.