Za’Darius Smith

Notable Incentives Still In Play For 2022

As we head into Week 17, a number of players still have key incentives available. Here is a handful of the notable escalators in reach — many involving Smiths — courtesy of’s Albert Breer.

  • Justin Houston, OLB (Ravens): Already collecting $1MM by reaching 7.5 sacks, the 12th-year pass rusher (nine sacks) can move that number to $1.5MM by getting to 10.
  • Christian Kirk, WR (Jaguars): The big-ticket Jags signing can collect $500K by hitting 80 receptions, with another $500K available if he reaches 90. Kirk has 76 catches. The ex-Cardinal (988 receiving yards) can also collect $1MM by surpassing 1,100.
  • Raheem Mostert, RB (Dolphins): The offseason addition will almost certainly add $1MM to his 2022 earnings. By clearing 900 scrimmage yards, Mostert needs only the Dolphins to stay in the top 25 in total offense. Considering Miami ranks ninth, it is a good bet the ex-49er — who signed for one year and $2.2MM — will cash in.
  • Geno Smith, QB (Seahawks): After already collecting $1MM for hitting playing-time incentives and $500K by making the Pro Bowl, Smith is likely to add another $1MM by eclipsing 4,000 passing yards for the first time. Smith, who signed for one year and $3.5MM, has 3,886 yards through 15 games.
  • Preston Smith, OLB (Packers): Sitting on 8.5 sacks, the veteran edge rusher can collect $1MM by ballooning that number to 10. Another $1MM would be in play for Smith if he reached 12 sacks this season.
  • Za’Darius Smith, OLB (Vikings): The 2022 Minnesota signee can up his incentive package to either $750K by hitting 10.5 sacks or $1MM by reaching 12.5. The veteran edge has 10 sacks through 15 games.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR (Chiefs): Leading Chiefs wideouts in receiving yards (877) by a wide margin, Smith-Schuster is likely to enhance his already-impressive incentive collection by topping 900 receiving yards. That would put the ex-Steeler at $3MM in total incentives earned. Signing a one-year deal worth $3.76MM, Smith-Schuster has already collected $2.5MM in escalators.
  • J.J. Watt, DL (Cardinals): Lastly, the retiring D-lineman collected $900K by reaching nine sacks (9.5); he can bump that number to $1MM by tallying a 10th sack over the team’s final two games.

Vikings Agree To Deal With Za’Darius Smith

After being released by the Packers, Za’Darius Smith will remain in the NFC North. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the pass rusher is signing a three-year, $42MM deal with the Vikings (Twitter link). He adds that the contract’s maximum value is $47MM. Minnesota has confirmed the signing.

Smith was let go by the Packers after three seasons with the team. Green Bay made it clear early in the offseason that he would only be brought back at a reduced cost. That led him to free agency for the second time in his career. Many pointed to a reunion in Baltimore – where he spent the first four seasons of his career – as a distinct possibility.

A deal seemed to be done between those two sides, which would pay the 29-year-old $35MM over four years. One day after a number of other edge rushers on the market found new homes, however, it came out that Smith was in fact not signing with the Ravens.

Still on the open market, Smith garnered interest from both the Cowboys and Vikings. The latter met with Smith yesterday, opening the door to a deal. On the lookout for a compliment to fellow 2015 draftee Danielle Hunter, Smith will represent a significant addition to Minnesota’s pass-rush department.

At a annual average value of $14MM, the Vikings’ deal is a raise of $5.25MM per season over that offered by Baltimore. While it comes in at a rate notably lower than the compensation the likes of Von Miller and Chandler Jones have received this offseason, it’s not far off the $16.5MM average of his previous pact in Green Bay. With a lucrative new contract in place, he can now face his former team twice per year.

Vikings To Meet With Za’Darius Smith

Za’Darius Smith backed out of an agreement to return to the Ravens, and interest is picking up. The Vikings are set to meet with the recent Packers cap casualty Monday, Tom Pelissero of tweets.

Minnesota shopped Danielle Hunter but ultimately paid its longtime edge anchor an $18MM roster bonus Sunday. The team still could use an additional proven rusher. Smith would certainly qualify.

A Hunter-Smith pairing would be interesting, given each’s recent injury struggles. Smith missed 16 of the Packers’ 18 games last season because of a back injury he aggravated in Week 1. Smith underwent surgery last fall and did not return until Green Bay’s playoff game. Hunter is coming off two injury-marred years, with a pectoral tear shelving him midway through last season.

Injuries aside, the 2015 draftees are accomplished pass rushers. Each has two Pro Bowl nods, with Smith’s two coming from 2019-20, when he combined for 26 sacks to start off his Packers contract. The Vikings do have third-year edge rusher D.J. Wonnum, who led the team with eight sacks last season, but Everson Griffen is a free agent after another season that featured off-field issues lead to an in-season exit. Minnesota is also moving to a 3-4 defense for the first time in decades; Smith has played in 3-4 schemes throughout his career.

The Cowboys are also believed to be interested in Smith, discussing a deal with him before news of the Ravens pact surfaced and continuing to make a push for him after the accord dissolved. The Ravens believed they had Smith en route on a four-year, $35MM deal. But Smith changed course. The 29-year-old defender could be headed back to the NFC soon.

Cowboys Interested In Za’Darius Smith

The Cowboys have been connected to a host of pass rushers over the past week, and despite the team agreeing to terms with Dante Fowler, another addition here appears in play.

Linked to Jason Pierre-Paul on Sunday, the Cowboys have also engaged in discussions with Za’Darius Smith. Those talks were believed to have occurred before Smith’s since-nixed Ravens deal. But Dallas remains interested in the again-available edge defender, Aaron Wilson of notes.

The NFC East champions are making a push for Smith to be Randy Gregory‘s replacement, Wilson adds, pointing to the team not intending to give Fowler that starting role just yet. Dallas’ $26MM-plus in cap space ranks near the top of the NFL.

Smith backed out of a four-year, $35MM Ravens agreement. That development pointed to the ex-Packers Pro Bowler having a more lucrative option on the radar. While Gregory did have an immediate backup plan, signing with the Broncos, Smith remains a free agent days after his agreement fell through. The former Ravens draftee is coming off a season in which a back injury limited him to two games, which made the Baltimore agreement a seemingly nice parachute for the cap casualty.

Dallas has signed Fowler to a one-year deal and re-signed Dorance Armstrong to a two-year, $13MM pact. Smith’s stature would certainly point to the Cowboys making him DeMarcus Lawrence‘s top edge partner, with Fowler and Armstrong in rotational roles, should the Cowboys finalize an agreement. Prior to his injury-marred 2021, Smith combined for 26 sacks from 2019-20. Smith, who was also linked to the Chiefs weeks ago, will turn 30 in September.

Cowboys Interested In Jason Pierre-Paul

After DE Randy Gregory elected to sign with the Broncos and leave the Cowboys at the altar, Dallas suddenly had a major pass-rushing void to fill. The team’s Von Miller pursuit was unsuccessful, so it pivoted to Dante Fowler, agreeing to terms with the former No. 3 overall pick earlier this week.

According to Jeremy Fowler of, the Cowboys may not be done and may be considering multiple additions to their contingent of edge defenders (Twitter link). Specifically, Fowler reports that Dallas is interested in free agent Jason Pierre-Paul.

Now 33, JPP has long been one of the best pass rushers in the game. Selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2010 draft, he earned two Pro Bowl nods and a First Team All-Pro selection during his time with Big Blue, which shipped him to the Buccaneers in a March 2018 trade. Over his first three seasons in Tampa, Pierre-Paul averaged over 10 sacks per year, and he secured a third Pro Bowl berth in 2020, the Bucs’ championship-winning campaign.

The 2021 season, however, represented a step back for Pierre-Paul. Hampered by a broken finger and a torn rotator cuff that required offseason surgery, he managed just 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one forced fumble in 12 contests. That was a disappointing platform year, and it could explain why this is the first time we have heard of interest in his services.

On the other hand, the addition of a player like Pierre-Paul to a group of QB hunters that also includes DeMarcus Lawrence — who recently agreed to a new contract — Fowler, and Micah Parsons would help to soften the blow of Gregory’s defection. However, Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News cautions that nothing is imminent with respect to JPP at this time (Twitter link).

After Za’Darius Smith agreed to terms with the Ravens, Todd Archer of reported (via Twitter) that Dallas had discussions with Smith. Now that the two-time Pro Bowler pulled a Gregory and chose not to reunite with Baltimore, the Cowboys could circle back to him, but that is only speculation at this point.

Za’Darius Smith Not Signing With Ravens

It seemed as though the Ravens had added another major piece to their defense by reuniting with Za’Darius SmithHowever, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that he is in fact not signing with Baltimore (Twitter link). 

It had been announced yesterday that the former Packer was coming back to Baltimore on a four-year, $35MM deal. The news came after Smith, 29, was released by Green Bay in a cost-cutting move. They had been open to keeping him at a reduced cost, but the split seemed to be mutual.

That opened the door to a reunion with Baltimore, where he had spent the first four years of his career and established himself as a productive pass rusher. Between the familiarity with the organization, and the lack of proven veterans at the position for the Ravens, the reported deal made perfect sense. Now, however the former fourth rounder will remain on the open market.

At his media availability announcing the additions of safety Marcus Williams and offensive tackle Morgan Moses, general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t confirm the Smith deal. Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic reports that the team “felt like they had a verbal agreement” in place with Smith (Twitter link). While he adds that a deal with Baltimore is technically still possible, he states that “it seems unlikely this [situation] is salvageable”.

Smith’s decision comes one day after the edge rusher market changed dramatically. Von Miller, Chandler Jones and Uchenna Nwosu all found new homes in free agency. That, coupled with the recent trades of Khalil Mack and Yannick Ngakoue, should place Smith at the top of the list with respect to the remaining names available.

The Ravens, meanwhile, will now search for a backup plan at the position. With plenty of question marks remaining in their front seven, and limited cap space to work with, they face a much different situation than they did 24 hours ago.

Ravens To Bring Back LB Za’Darius Smith

Mentioned as a possible Za’Darius Smith landing spot, the Ravens are indeed reacquiring their former pass rusher. The recently released Packer is committing to Baltimore. 

The Ravens are adding Smith on a four-year, $35MM deal, Adam Schefter of tweets. This deal is not as lucrative as the one Smith signed in Green Bay three years ago, but Schefter adds it can max out at $50MM. The 29-year-old spent the first four years of his carer with the Ravens, where he followed a familiar pattern of edge rushers gradually growing in their role on the team.

In his final season in Charm City, the former fourth round pick posted a career-high 8.5 sacks. That earned him a sizeable second contract with the Packers, where he paired with Preston Smith to form one of the league’s best pass-rushing tandems. He totalled 26 sacks in 2019 and 2020, earning him Pro Bowl nods in each of those campaigns.

However, he was limited to a single game in 2021 due to a back injury. That, coupled with the emergence of former first rounder Rashan Gary, as well as his aforementioned hefty contract, made Smith a viable release candidate. It wasn’t surprising, then, that the Packers quickly made it clear he would only be brought back at a more affordable price.

While Green Bay was willing to keep Smith at the cash value he was owed (as opposed to his much higher cap number), it seemed the parting of ways by the two sides was mutual. The team will now move forward with Gary and the recently re-signed Preston Smith at the forefront of their edge rush department. As for the Ravens, a significant hole in the front seven has been filled. Before this news, the team’s only two notable pass rushers under contract were Tyus Bowser (who tore his Achilles in the season finale) and first round rookie Odafe Oweh (who tailed off after an impressive start to the campaign).

Smith joins safety Marcus Williams as the Ravens’ second noteworthy signing on the defensive side of the ball. Not generally known for making splashes at the top of the free agent market, they have now added two major pieces to a roster which many saw as Super Bowl-caliber at the beginning of last season.

Packers Release Za’Darius Smith

In an expected move, the Packers are moving on from their other Smith-named pass rusher. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Green Bay has released Za’Darius Smith (Twitter link). 

[RELATED: Packers Re-Sign Preston Smith]

ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds that the Packers were willing to keep Smith, 29 at the owed cash amount for the 2022 season, which was $15.75MM. However, this seems to be a mutual parting of ways for both parties, as the Packers get much-needed cap relief and Smith gets to hit the open market for the second time in his career.

While injuries limited him to a single game in 2021, Smith proved his worth to the Packers the previous two seasons he was there. After coming to Green Bay following his time in Baltimore, the former fourth rounder totalled 26 sacks in 2019 and 2020, earning Pro Bowl nods along the way both times. Given that production, as well as his age, he will likely command a lucrative third deal this offseason.

Since he was released prior to the beginning of the league year, Smith will not gain the Packers a compensatory pick when he signs elsewhere. That will add to the number of teams interested in his services, putting Smith at or near the top of a free agent edge rusher class which already includes other established sack artists like Von Miller and Chandler Jones.

In related news, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero tweets that the Packers are releasing right tackle Billy Turner. The 30-year-old had spent the past three seasons in Green Bay, but he will likewise begin the search for a new home.

With these two moves, the Packers have trimmed roughly $18.5MM off of their cap. The team has more work to be done to become cap compliant, but the bulk of that effort is now finished.

Latest On FA Pass Rushers

In the estimation of Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link), the quality and depth of this year’s collegiate class of pass rushers could negatively impact their professional counterparts seeking new contracts. Some of the most notable names in that latter category include the CardinalsChandler Jones and the RamsVon Miller.

Rapoport believes that Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill genuinely wants to retain Jones (as we heard last month), but the franchise tag value for the four-time Pro Bowler would be roughly $25MM, so that option is not feasible for the Cards. As such, Jones will hit the open market, and given that there has been something of a strained relationship between player and team for several years, he could be playing elsewhere in 2022.

Meanwhile, Rapoport expects the Rams to do everything they can to retain Miller, who is, like Jones, prepared to test the open market. Of course, the reigning Super Bowl champs also have new contracts for Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald on their radar, so GM Les Snead will have his work cut out for him when trying to re-up his prized trade acquisition.

A less heralded (but much younger) option for clubs in need of pass rush help could be Chargers OLB Uchenna Nwosu. As Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network reports, the Bolts and Nwosu have mutual interest in a new contract, but despite Nwosu’s desire to remain with his hometown team, the money will need to be right. Wilson suggests that the 25-year-old is targeting a contract with an average annual value between $10MM-$13MM, which would seem to be a fair price for an ascending player who put together a strong 2021 campaign — five sacks, eight TFL, 17 QB hits, and an interception — despite playing through a serious labrum injury.

The Colts, Packers, Bills, and Jets are all teams that could have interest in Nwosu, per Wilson. There is a good chance that Green Bay releases Za’Darius Smith, so Nwosu could serve as a Smith replacement in Wisconsin. In a separate piece, Wilson reports that the Jets, like the Chiefs, would be in on Smith should he indeed become a Packers cap casualty.

Eagles GM Howie Roseman is certainly monitoring both collegiate pass rushers as well as the free agent market. When discussing how he is prioritizing his team’s pass rush, Roseman recently said, “I’d be surprised if we didn’t do something there” (Twitter link via Eliot Shorr-Parks of Zach Berman and Bo Wulf of The Athletic (subscription required) believe there is a good chance Philadelphia grabs an edge rusher with at least one of its three first-round picks, especially since they expect Roseman to let DE Derek Barnett depart in free agency.’s Jordan Reid, Matt Miller, and Todd McShay provide a detailed breakdown of the strong performance put on by the 2022 draft class of front seven players at this year’s scouting combine (subscription required).

Chiefs Monitoring Packers’ Za’Darius Smith?

The Packers have said they will not bring Za’Darius Smith back at his current cap number. Unless the team plans to add money to future caps via a void years-driven restructure, Green Bay will need to work out a new contract with its Pro Bowl edge rusher.

The prospect of Smith becoming a Packers cap casualty also looms. If that happens, the Chiefs are expected to pursue the veteran outside linebacker, according to Tony Pauline of Kansas City has its own cap-casualty candidate in Frank Clark, who is on the suspension radar after two gun-related arrests in 2021, and midseason trade acquisition Melvin Ingram is on track for free agency.

Kansas City has recent experience revamping its pass rush under Andy Reid, having disbanded its Justin HoustonDee Ford setup to bring in Clark in 2019. Clark has enjoyed successful spurts but has not lived up to the $20.8MM-per-year extension he inked in 2019. Clark totaled just 4.5 sacks in 14 games last season. The Chiefs should not be expected to carry Clark’s $26.3MM cap charge on their books in 2022, especially with a suspension on the radar. Kansas City could save nearly $20MM by designating Clark as a post-June 1 cut.

The Chiefs’ 31 sacks ranked 29th last season, though Smith would be an interesting addition given his age (30 in September) and injury-marred 2021. A back injury sidelined Smith for 16 games last season. The ex-Raven totaled 26 sacks from 2019-20, making the Pro Bowl in each season, and was effective upon return in the Packers’ divisional-round game. Still, his value likely took a hit after back surgery sidelined him for nearly the entire season.

A return to Baltimore could also be in play for Smith, per Pauline, but it may take an underwhelming market to make that happen. The Ravens frequently let edges walk in free agency, rather than dole out big money to retain vets at the position. Pernell McPhee found his way back to Baltimore after injuries slowed him elsewhere, but Smith’s market — if he is, in fact, released — likely will not reach that level. Indeed, Pauline adds Smith should expect to generate extensive interest if cut.

Green Bay continues to move down toward the salary cap, but the team still does not know Aaron Rodgers‘ plans and may need to carve out an extra $20MM for a Davante Adams franchise tag. The team restructured Smith’s contract to create space last year, creating his current untenable cap charge ($27.7MM) and irking Smith in the process.