5 Possible Za’Darius Smith Replacements from Free Agency

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The Minnesota Vikings traded Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns nine days ago after the pass rusher announced that he wanted out of Minnesota on Twitter in March.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah gained a couple of pick swaps in the deal and about $10 million in cap space.

5 Possible Za’Darius Smith Replacements from Free Agency

And if Minnesota wants to turn around and invest that cash in a Smith replacement next to Danielle Hunter and Marcus Davenport, these are the viable and noteworthy options available in free agency.

1. Jadeveon Clowney

Smith Replacements from
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Perhaps the least likely on the list because of scheme fit and price, Clowney is available nevertheless. The 30-year-old spent the last two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, tallying 11 sacks and an impressive 75.5 Pro Football Focus grade in 2022.

Clowney likely still wants to start somewhere, clouding an arrangement with the Vikings, as the team already has Hunter and Davenport. But don’t rule out a relationship with the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft with the Vikings. Stranger things have happened.

2. Trey Flowers

Detroit Lions outside linebacker Trey Flowers (90) warms up before the Los Angeles Rams game at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Flowers, 29, has produced a reasonably productive career, although his last three campaigns have been muddied by injury. The important part here, however, is past ties to Brian Flores in New England. He spent his first four seasons with the Patriots, and Flores worked there under Bill Belichick the entire time. The two should know each other well.

The Arkansas alumnus played just 64 snaps last year for the Miami Dolphins.

3. Leonard Floyd

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Floyd is the guy if you’re interested in a Kevin O’Connell connection.

Floyd registered 18.5 sacks in the last two seasons and won a Super Bowl with O’Connell and the Rams in 2021. He’s 30 and graded a 65.7 from PFF last year, his seventh NFL season. Now, he needs a new home.

Like Clowney, Floyd is accustomed to starting. It is unclear if he’d accept a ‘third pass rusher’ gig. He turns 31 right as the 2023 regular season kicks off.

4. Justin Houston

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The elder statesman on the list — might just be the best fit for what Minnesota needs. Houston came off the bench as an EDGE rusher for the 2022 Baltimore Ravens, notching 9.5 sacks in 14 games. His 73.6 PFF score was also delicious.

When you hear, “Pass rushers often go strong into their 30s,” those folks are talking about Houston. He’s logged 111.5 sacks in his life and has never played for an NFC team. Perhaps it’s time. The guy who drafted Randy Moss 25 years ago called for the Vikings to sign the 34-year-old last week.

5. Yannick Ngakoue

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Yes, an old friend. The man never stays in one spot for too long, so, in theory, he could sign for the Vikings for a second time and maybe even last a full year.

Minnesota onboarded Ngakoue right before the start he 2020, viewed as a godsend by some because Danielle Hunter missed the entire season with a neck injury. But Ngakoue, now 28, clearly wasn’t a fit in the Mike Zimmer defense, and then-GM Rick Spielman shipped the defender to the Baltimore Ravens.

He’s since played for the Indianapolis Colts and Las Vegas Raiders, spending one season apiece at those stops. The former Viking has tabulated 19.5 sacks in the last two seasons, an impressive stat that could be put to work inside Brian Flores’ defense. But don’t ask him to stop the run.

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.