Once more, the Minnesota Vikings have elected to sign a player who was cast off by the Green Bay Packers. After decades of seeing players jump from Green Bay to Minneapolis, the trend continued anew on Tuesday with former Packers edge rusher Za’Darius Smith.
The Packers released Smith eight days ago, cutting him last Monday in order to reduce the team’s salary cap burden by approximately $15 million for 2022. After initially appearing to agree to a 4-year, $35 million contract to return to the Baltimore Ravens, where he played prior to signing in Green Bay, Smith elected to back out, apparently with good reason. Today, he has reportedly signed a three-year contract with the Vikings worth $42 million with another $5 million in possible incentives. This comes a day after the Vikings franchise lit up the marquee outside the team’s training facilities for Smith’s visit, posting about it widely on social media.
Smith will have a chance to rejoin former Packers defensive coaches Mike Pettine and Mike Smith. Pettine, who served as the Packers’ defensive coordinator during Za’Darius’ first two seasons in Green Bay, currently holds the title of assistant head coach in Minnesota under first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell. Former Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith departed Green Bay this offseason of his own accord, moving to Minnesota to hold that same title while adding pass rush specialist duties.
After two stellar years in 2019 and 2020, which saw him record 13.5 and 12.5 sacks respectively, Smith played just two games in the 2021 campaign: the season-opening loss to New Orleans and the Packers’ lone playoff contest. He missed the remainder of the season with back issues while also posting cryptic messages frequently on social media, with some posts suggesting he was displeased with not being voted as one of the team’s defensive captains.
This move and the Vikings’ decision to retain fellow pass-rusher Danielle Hunter gives Minnesota a highly talented and productive pair of starting edge players — provided they can stay healthy. Hunter posted back-to-back 14.5-sack seasons that earned him Pro Bowl honors in 2018 and 2019. However, he missed the entire 2020 season after undergoing neck surgery and played just seven games in 2021 before suffering a torn pectoral muscle that shut him down for the year.
Smith’s arrival in Minnesota comes as the team is shifting to a 3-4 base defense under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who is yet another Packers connection. Donatell was Green Bay’s DC from 2000 through 2003 under head coach Mike Sherman.