Former Vikings Edge Runs It Back with Cleveland

Outcry over
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

The edge rusher position has been something of a focal point for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason.

Danielle Hunter is a free agent and set to find a nice payday, even at 30 years old. His former teammate on the other side of the line is now set to stay in Cleveland for year two as Za’Darius Smith is set to re-up with the Browns.

Former Vikings Edge Rusher Runs It Back with Cleveland

Former Vikings Edge
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During his first season as the Minnesota Vikings head coach, Kevin O’Connell watched a defense that was largely successful only when bringing down the opposing quarterback. Despite a slow start to the 2022 season by Danielle Hunter, it was free agent Za’Darius Smith that came out of the gate swinging. Having been active for just a single game with the Green Bay Packers a year prior, he was healthy and ready to go.

Smith tapered off by the end of the year, but started 16 games for Minnesota and racked up ten sacks while being named to his third Pro Bowl. His 15 tackles for loss were just two off of his career-high, and playing alongside Hunter certainly helped him to thrive while the focus was on the opposite side of the line. After seeing success in Minnesota, Smith forced his way out and sought a trade, landing him in Cleveland.

Had Mulitple Suitors
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates sacking Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with teammate linebacker D.J. Wonnum during their football game Sunday, September 11, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Min. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK.

Last season was hardly as successful for the former Viking. Despite remaining healthy again playing all 16 games, Smith registered just 5.5 sacks to go with eight tackles for loss. The Cleveland Browns defense was among the best in the NFL, but it wasn’t on the back of Smith that the load was carried. Still, he made enough of an impression to be given a deal bringing him back for 2024.

It’s too bad the Vikings couldn’t have kept Smith a season ago. With the blitzing tendencies of defensive coordinator Brian Flores, Minnesota may have had one of the more explosive one-two punches across the entire league. Marcus Davenport was not a successful replacement plan, and although Smith saw a dip in production, he would have been an infinitely better talent up front.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Now heading over to head coach Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland, Smith will get a chance to improve upon his numbers from last season, and he’ll be looking to put together a third straight healthy season. He made his displeasure with how Green Bay handled his health known upon signing with Minnesota, and it appears that he knows his body best having maintained a level of availability since.

The Vikings have since made a couple of moves on defense during the legal tampering period, and they have directly addressed positions vacated by Smith and Hunter. How they hold up under Flores remains to be seen, but it’s clear there has been a changing of the guard.

Minnesota and Cleveland do not play each other during the 2024 NFL regular season.

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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.