Za’Darius Smith Conundrum Hangs Over Vikings as New League Year Inches Closer

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants running back Matt Breida (31) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za'Darius Smith (55) during the third quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Quite stunningly, Za’Darius Smith announced his desire to leave the Minnesota Vikings in a tweet on March 9.

“I just want to say ‘Thank you!’ to Skol Nation,” the edge rusher explained, “for an amazing season & experience! Thank you to all of my Teammates, Coaches & the entire Minnesota Vikings Organization!” Shortly thereafter, Ian Rapoport sent a follow-up tweet, clarifying that Minnesota didn’t intend on cutting their star pass rusher. All of this followed the Ben Goessling tweet explaining that Smith’s house was on the market.

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

Since that time, we’ve seen the team say goodbye to Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, and Dalvin Tomlinson. They’ve retained Andrew DePaola, Garrett Bradbury, Nick Mullens, and Greg Joseph. Deals are in place to acquire Josh Oliver, Marcus Davenport, and Byron Murphy. Heck, we’ve even seen the QB1 agree to a major contract adjustment.

Hanging over all of this is the unresolved Za’Darius Smith situation.

As far as I can tell, the Vikings will be hesitant to simply cut the star edge rusher. Why? Well, it’s because they have a couple years of team control on the contract. In the NFL, players who can consistently get after the QB are in high demand. Why cut one when a team could recoup some draft capital in a trade?

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Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before a wild card game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

For the record, I don’t begrudge Smith for looking to lock-in some extra cash. The man is going to be 31 in early September, so his days of demanding large NFL contracts are quickly coming to an end. He exceeded expectations in 2022, mostly staying healthy as he piled up 10 sacks, 15 TFLs, and 24 QB hits.

There need not be bitterness for the situation, folks.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean the situation doesn’t demand attention. The Vikings still have a tricky cap situation. As of this morning, Over the Cap put Minnesota at a touch more than $6 million in cap space. However, that’s without including the Davenport and Murphy deals. Bradbury, Joseph, DePaola, and Mullens also look to be absent.

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Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrate victory at the end of the second half of the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

In other words, the finances still have a ways to go. Trading Smith could clear roughly $12.15 million.

Around the NFL, trades are occurring. Tight end Darren Waller is being sent to the Giants in exchange for a 3rd-round selection. Corner Stephon Gilmore is going to Dallas for a 5th-round selection. Right guard Shaq Mason is going to the Texans for a switch between 6th and 7th-round selections.

What’s the point? Well, it’s merely to note that well-established veterans who have a history of elite play have been on the move. Are we on the precipice of a similar outcome for Za’Darius Smith? Based on the previous deals, a mid-round pick may be the expectation. Part of what complicates matters is that the acquiring team will need to redo the deal, which certainly impacts negotiations.

Stay tuned, folks. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is hard at work, and a decision could arrive at any moment.

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