The 4 Possible Paths for The Vikings & Za’Darius Smith

Syndication: The Post-Crescent

Yesterday, the reasonably stunning news emerged that Za’Darius Smith has asked for his release from the Minnesota Vikings. The EDGE shared a farewell on social media: “I just want to say “Thank you!” to Skol Nation for an amazing season & experience! Thank you to all of my Teammates, Coaches & the entire Minnesota Vikings Organization!”

Shortly thereafter, Ian Rapoport added a bit more clarity on the situation: “Pro Bowl pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith informed the team that he wants to be released, I’m told. The team has no plans to do that. The situation remains unresolved.” All of this emerged following the somewhat random tweet from Ben Goessling in mid-February that explained Smith had put his home on the market, piquing the interest of Vikings fans far and wide.

After a strong 2022 season, Smith is looking for more money, a reality that Ian Rapoport confirmed today:

Per Rapoport, Smith’s desire is to leverage his most recent season “so he can go in and cash in for another team on what he put on the field last year and what he believes he’s going to do in the future.”

With all that being said, take a look at the 4 possible outcomes for the Vikings and Za’Darius Smith.

The 4 Paths for Za’Darius Smith and The Vikings

1) The Vikings Grant His Wish

If this occurs, Minnesota will be without one of its best defenders.

True, his statistics lessened as the year progressed, but he still had a very productive season overall. He finished with 10 sacks, 15 QB hits, 53 hurries, and 78 total pressures, per PFF.

Questions Answered: New Starters, New Numbers, Will Patience Be a Virtue
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

In the end, Smith established himself as one of the most feared defenders on Minnesota’s roster. Ed Donatell’s bland, predictable defense commonly relied on the veteran EDGE to move all over the front to pick on favorable matchups.

Simply cutting him would clear $12.15 million in cap space but leave Brian Flores without one of the team’s foremost options.

2) Dig in for a Prolonged Stalemate

Perhaps the worst option of the 4, Minnesota could always refuse and then proceed to play a game of chicken. Smith wants the freedom of heading back to the free agency market so he can get more money. The Vikings don’t have to comply. Instead, they could simply demand that he honors his deal.

For a variety of reasons, this would be a painful approach. After all, we’re fresh off the news that Minnesota leads the NFL in player satisfaction. Getting into a public standoff with a well-respected player seems misguided for Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell greets players during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

3) Offer Him a Boatload of Cash

If Rapoport’s read on the situation is correct, then money can likely fix the problem. After all, this is the NFL we’re talking about. Money is king.

At present, Smith is heading into a season when his cap hit will come in below $15.5 million. That’s a bargain for a strong edge rusher. Even worse, from Smith’s perspective, is that the actual cash paid is at $12.5 million for 2023.

Let’s not forget that Smith is going to be 31 in early September. His chances of landing huge NFL contracts are coming to an end. Very reasonably, he is looking to get paid while he still can.

4) Trade Him to the Highest Bidder

How many teams want impact edge rushers on their roster? All 32. How many specifically want Smith? Not all 32, but quite a few (if I had to guess).

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins (73) looks to block Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Going public with the discontent may drive the price down, but all Kwesi Adofo-Mensah needs is 2 or more teams to get some leverage back. Toward the end of the video, Rapoport mentions the trade possibility. Seeing as how the team only has 5 draft choices (with only 2 in the top 100), Adofo-Mensah would likely welcome an extra pick or two.

If the price is right, Adofo-Mensah would likely ship out his star edge rusher. Doing so would free up the same amount of cap space as a cut while bringing in some precious draft resources.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.