Za’Darius Smith

Browns To Re-Sign DE Za’Darius Smith, DT Maurice Hurst

Za’Darius Smith joined the Browns on a one-year agreement last offseason. He will remain in Cleveland moving forward rather than testing the market.

The veteran edge rusher has agreed to a new deal with the Browns, Dianna Russini of The Athletic reports. The two-year pact has a base value of $23.5MM, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network adds. Smith can earn up to $25MM on his next contract.

Meanwhile, the Browns have also re-upped defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. Hurst will receive up to $3.2MM on his one-year deal.

After compiling at least 10 sacks in his three most-recent healthy seasons, Smith caught on with the Browns for the 2023 campaign. He didn’t put up the same numbers in Cleveland but was still productive, finishing with 5.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, and 20 QB hits.

While the counting stats dropped, Pro Football Focus still considered Smith one of the best edge rushers in the league. The 31-year-old finished the season ranked 16th among 112 qualifying edge defenders, with the site only knocking him for the run defense. The Browns were also clearly happy with Smith’s production, as the team can now pencil him into the depth chart for the next two years.

The former fourth-round pick spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Ravens before a three-year stint in Green Bay that saw him earn a pair of Pro Bowl nods. He spent the 2022 campaign in Minnesota.

Hurst also emerged as a dependable defender during his first season in Cleveland. The defensive tackle got into 13 games for the Browns, finishing with 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He didn’t start a game last season but still managed to appear in close to 40 percent of his team’s defensive snaps.

Browns’ Joe Flacco, Za’Darius Smith To Test Free Agency

Despite a slew of injury troubles at the quarterback position (among others), the Browns managed to post a record of 11-6 and qualify for the postseason. Joe Flacco was a major part in that success, and he plans on playing through the 2025 campaign.

The 39-year-old may not be in Cleveland for the next chapter of his career, however. Flacco is expected to test free agency in March, Mary Kay Cabot of reports. In the wake of losing Deshaun Watson for the rest of the season, the Browns added Flacco as a depth quarterback option; he ultimately took over the starting role to close out the regular season, averaging 323 passing yards per game.

While turnover issues presented themselves in the wild-card round in particular, the former Super Bowl MVP earned Comeback Player of the Year honors for his surprise resurgence. The Browns are open to retaining him, but a new Cleveland deal would come with the understanding he would back up Watson. For that reason, Flacco’s desire to gauge his value on a potential deal sending him elsewhere is certainly reasonable.

A number of veteran QBs are set to reach free agency, and Flacco would be one of many available as a bridge starter or high-end backup. As Cabot notes, his preference would an opportunity to at least compete for the No. 1 role with his next team. In the event he were to depart, the Browns would move forward with Watson and 2023 fifth-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson atop the depth chart.

One of several front seven additions the Browns made last offseason was the acquisition of edge rusher Za’Darius SmithThe three-time Pro Bowler was tasked with serving as a complement to Myles Garrett, and he finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks. Cabot notes that Smith, like Flacco, will test the market before deciding on his future.

Likewise, the Browns’ preference would be to retain Smith at the right cost. Cleveland has Garrett under contract through 2026, but the team also added Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in free agency last offseason. The latter is signed for the next two seasons, and he would be in line for an increased workload in the event Smith were to depart. Now 31, Smith has managed to play 16 games in each of the past two seasons but his 15 total sacks in that span could lead to lukewarm interest on the market.

The Browns are currently over the 2024 cap by a margin of $7.76MM. That figure will change dramatically once Watson’s pact is inevitably restructured, but the team will still have other priorities beyond retaining Flacco and Smith. It will be worth watching to see how much interest both veterans generate and if Cleveland will be able to match any offers from outside suitors.

Browns Notes: Stefanski, Watson, Smith, Winfrey

The Browns’ record has gotten worse in each of Kevin Stefanski‘s three seasons at the helm. However, Mary Kay Cabot of doesn’t believe the head coach is on the hot seat heading into the 2023 campaign.

Stefanski’s apparent job security is partly due to the Browns not “thinking negatively,” as Cabot notes. The organization has high hopes for the 2023 campaign, and they believe their head coach can get the most out of a roster that should feature a full season from QB Deshaun Watson. With other stars like Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, and Amari Cooper, Cabot opines that this is the most talented roster the coach has had during his Cleveland tenure.

It sounds like the front office is willing to write off the head coach’s 2022 campaign thanks to an uncertain QB depth chart, and Stefanski was always going to be afforded a longer leash thanks to a 2020 campaign where Cleveland won 11 regular season games and another playoff contest. As a result, there isn’t any clear ultimatum heading into next year.

Of course, if the Browns fall short of expectations, then “all things will be taken into account.” So, while Stefanski isn’t on the hot seat entering the season, he’ll surely be facing some calls for his job if the Browns don’t take a step forward in 2023.

More notes out of Cleveland…

  • Speaking of Watson, the player has been a “low-maintenance QB,” according to Terry Pluto of Watson has reportedly been building a strong relationship with Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, with the trio exchanging ideas on how the offense will operate. Pluto believes the grouping wasn’t able to establish the same rapport last year with Watson’s impending suspension and the coaching staff’s need to temporarily cater the offense to the pocket-passing Jacoby Brissett.
  • Defensive end Za’Darius Smith was acquired from the Vikings last month, and he may see a different role in Cleveland. Cabot writes that the veteran defensive lineman could play some defensive tackle opposite Dalvin Tomlinson. This formation would allow the Browns to play their best four defensive linemen in Smith, Tomlinson, Garrett, and Ogbo Okoronkwo. Of course, Smith will also be used on the edge, in which case 2020 third-round pick Jordan Elliott could step up as the third DT on the depth chart.
  • Perrion Winfrey’s case for misdemeanor assault was dismissed earlier this month following completion of a pretrial conversion program, per Cabot. The 2022 fourth-round pick will be competing for one of those aforementioned interior DL roles. Winfrey got into 13 games as a rookie, compiling 22 tackles and 0.5 sacks.
  • We heard earlier today that the Browns are happy with their current grouping of wide receivers, including newcomer Elijah Moore. As a result, the organization isn’t expected to pursue DeAndre Hopkins and reunite the receiver with his former quarterback.

Za’Darius Smith Addresses Vikings Contract, Recovery From Knee Injury

As expected, the Vikings moved on from Za’Darius Smith this offseason by trading him to the Browns. The veteran edge rusher recently spoke about his financial situation, which was the driving force behind his arrival with a new team for the third time in his career.

Smith signed a three-year Vikings contract last offseason, but guranteed money was a sticking point for the 30-year-old heading into this spring. He requested his release in March, something which would have allowed him to test the open market once again. Instead, Minnesota ended up trading him to Cleveland in a deal which saw Day 3 picks swapped and the Vikings elect to retain some of his compensation. Smith’s new contract still has him one year from free agency, however, something which is clearly a signficant factor for him.

It wasn’t set up right,” the former fourth-rounder said of his Vikings pact. “It was the guarantee part. The first year was only guaranteed. Now I’m basically in the same situation, but it’s OK now because I can get a chance to go into free agency next year” (h/t Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune).

All $6.45MM of the signing bonus Smith earned on his Minnesota agreement was indeed paid out in 2022, but after the re-working of his pact following the trade, he could still see up to $13MM in cashflow this season. Expectations will be high for him with the Browns, a team which will have one of the league’s better edge rushing groups if Smith is able to remain healthy in his new home.

The Kentucky product joins Myles Garrett and free agent addition Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in that department for Cleveland. Smith earned his third Pro Bowl nod in 2022 after notching 10 sacks in his lone Vikings campaign. That marked the third time in the least four years that he eclipsed double-digit sacks, with the lone exception being the 2021 season in which he was limited to just one game. Another injury – to his knee – slowed him down last last season, though.

Smith recorded only 0.5 sacks during the final eight games (regular and postseason combined) while he dealt with the ailment. He cited the weekly roster bonus he was paid out as the reason he continued suiting up despite being at less than 100%, and the resultant drop-off in production. Ahead of his Browns debut, however, he said he is much healthier.

“I couldn’t rest last year,” Smith said. “I was making like [$176K] just to dress up. So, you’d dress up, too, right? Exactly. That was different for me. I had a chance to rest my knee, get some rehab… I’m all healthy now and ready to go.”

Browns Pursued DE Melvin Ingram

Even as Jadeveon Clowney moved out of the picture, the Browns look to still be deeper on the edge than they were during the Clowney-Myles Garrett years. They have added two intriguing complementary rushers this offseason.

Obo Okoronkwo signed with Cleveland during free agency’s first week, and the Browns completed a pick-swap trade with the Vikings that will send Za’Darius Smith back to the AFC North. In between these moves, however, the team looked into another edge addition. The Browns pursued free agent defensive end Melvin Ingram, according to’s Mary Kay Cabot.

The Browns initially prioritized Smith, with Cabot noting Andrew Berry and ex-Browns staffer Kwesi Adofo-Mensah discussed the disgruntled pass rusher in March and April. With no deal materializing by the draft, the Browns checked in on Ingram, an 11-year veteran who played out his one-year Dolphins contract last season.

Eyeing an Ingram agreement similar to the pact they gave Clowney in 2022 — one year, $10MM — the Browns instead found a way to acquire Smith, who is three years younger than the former Chargers Pro Bowler. Ingram is one of many veteran edge players still in free agency, joining the likes of Yannick Ngakoue, Frank Clark, Leonard Floyd and Justin Houston. The Browns’ price point may shed some light on where this market stands.

Ingram, 34, broke through for his most sacks since 2020 last season, notching six in Miami. Only Jaelan Phillips (seven) tallied more for the team. The former Bolts first-round pick has also scored two defensive touchdowns over the past two seasons, doing so in consecutive regular-season games — Week 18 in 2021 and Week 1 of last season. Ingram, who played for the Steelers and Chiefs in between time with the Bolts and Dolphins, has 57 career sacks.

Smith has 54.5 despite working as more of a rotational rusher in Baltimore. He rebounded from a lost 2021 season in ’22, recovering from his back surgery to play 16 Vikings games. The eight-year veteran finished with 10 sacks during his Minnesota one-off. Clowney totaled nine during his debut with Garrett, though the former No. 1 overall pick — amid a turbulent season — regressed in 2022, registering only two in his second Cleveland slate. The Browns will expect more from Smith, who has two years remaining on his reworked contract.

Vikings Trade Za’Darius Smith To Browns

MAY 16: Further details on Smith’s re-worked contract are in, as noted (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Field Yates. The Vikings will be on the hook for the $1.177MM signing bonus included in his deal. As for the Browns, they will see a cap charge of only $3.032M this season before Smith hits the open market. He will be able to earn a maximum of nearly $13MM in cashflow, however, meaning this swap could still prove to be a rather lucrative one.

With Smith having passed a physical, both teams have announced that the trade is now official.

MAY 12: The Vikings have come to an agreement with the Browns that will send pass rusher Za’Darius Smith to Cleveland, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

The deal finally happens for Smith after he requested his release two months ago. The Browns will receive Smith, a 2025 sixth-round pick, and a 2025 seventh-round pick, while the Vikings will receive a 2024 fifth-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Originally, Smith was under a three-year, $42MM contract through the 2024 season. He had a base salary this year of $9.45MM with only $5MM of it guaranteed. After changing agents and requesting a release, Smith was able to get a reworked deal that would guarantee him $11.75MM in 2023 and allow him to hit free agency a year earlier, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

The new deal presumably made Smith a bit easier to trade, negating the cap hits of $15.49MM in 2023 and $21.67MM in 2024. The Browns should inherit this new contract from Minnesota, giving Smith a one-year tryout in Cleveland. The former Ravens and Packers edge defender will turn 31 just before the season begins.

In Smith, the Browns are obtaining a productive pass rusher to pair with Myles Garrett. The Browns tied for 27th in the league in sacks last year after failing to find any pressure outside of what Garrett provided. Garrett had his usual strong outing, matching his career-high of 16 sacks in 2022. The team’s second-leading pass rusher was defensive tackle Taven Bryan, who tallied only three.

Smith provides that missing fire support. Since leaving Baltimore as a prime free agent in 2019, Smith has had double-digit sack seasons in any year in which he started multiple games (he only made one appearance in 2021 due to a back injury), making the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons. In those four years (essentially three seasons), Smith has 36 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, and 84 quarterback hits, forcing six forced fumbles and deflecting seven passes for good measure.

Smith immediately stands to slot in as a starter opposite Garrett, though the Browns also signed free agent edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo from the Texans. He, Garrett and Smith will present an interesting trio. The Browns used Jadeveon Clowney as Garrett’s top sidekick for the past two years, but clashes with the coaching staff will almost definitely nix a third Garrett-Browns contract agreement. As for the Vikings, they signed one of this year’s top defensive free agents — Marcus Davenport — and the former Cameron Jordan Saints wingman now has a clear path to start opposite Danielle Hunter.

The Browns have all they can handle facing Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson twice a year. With Smith meeting Garrett at the quarterback, Cleveland has retooled itself, setting it up well for the challenges ahead while not needing to give up too much draft capital to do so.

NFC North Notes: Vikings, Lions, Savage

The Vikings have multiple departure candidates still on their roster. The Dalvin CookZa’Darius Smith holding patterns may persist, with’s Albert Breer noting the Vikes have informed other teams they are in good enough shape cap-wise to hold onto both veterans. This will be contingent on a bit more work being done, as OverTheCap credits the Vikings as holding $1.2MM in cap space. Cook is due $10.4MM in salary, and the Dolphins’ Devon Achane third-round pick complicates a previously discussed trade. The Vikings could take a Bengals path and prepare for a pay-cut ask, but we have not heard that is in the works yet. Smith, who asked to be cut earlier this year, is tied to a $9.45MM base. The Vikes have he, Danielle Hunter and UFA addition Marcus Davenport in the fold. The Vikings remain open to moving either player, though Breer adds they might need to pick up part of each’s salary — similar to how the Bears proceeded with their Robert Quinn trade last year — to make such a move worthwhile in terms of compensation.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • Between free agency and the draft, the Lions have revamped their secondary. Detroit signed Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson before drafting versatile DB Brian Branch in Round 2. The Eagles had moved Gardner-Johnson to safety last season, but he primarily played slot corner under Aaron Glenn in New Orleans. The Lions DC is planning to use CJGJ frequently in the slot this season, Justin Rogers of the Detroit News notes. It will be interesting to see how the Lions manage the workloads for Gardner-Johnson and Branch, considering both have experience — albeit one of them at the college level only — of working in the slot and as a safety.
  • In the wake of the NFL’s gambling investigation producing four Lions suspensions, the team released recently re-signed special-teamer C.J. Moore and wideout Quintez Cephus. Those two were not the only Lions employees dismissed as part of their involvement in this scandal. The team also fired staffers, and Breer adds a strength and conditioning coach and two equipment managers were let go. Receivers Jameson Williams and Stanley Berryhill were also suspended, but they are still with the team.
  • The Packers moved some money around in Darnell Savage‘s contract recently, and Field Yates of indicates the restructure created $5.5MM in cap space (Twitter link). Savage is attached to a fifth-year option salary in 2023. The Packers converted $4MM of Savage’s option salary into a signing bonus and tacked on four void years to the former first-round safety’s deal, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky tweets. If the Packers do not re-sign Savage before the 2024 league year begins, they will be hit with $5.5MM in dead money due to the void years now on this contract. The Packers, who absorbed a record-tying $40MM in dead money by trading Aaron Rodgers last week, are still near the top of the league in cap space. They hold just more than $17MM in room as May begins.

Vikings Open To Trading Dalvin Cook, Za’Darius Smith

The post-draft period will no doubt see a number of NFL veterans finding new homes, on the free agent and trade markets. The Vikings will be a team to watch with respect to the futures of key contributors on both sides of the ball.

Minnesota will listen to trade offers on running back Dalvin Cook and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, as noted (on Twitter) by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. Both players have been mentioned in trade talk, leading to speculation that they could be on the move this offseason in the event their respective financial situations could be sorted out.

Cook emerged on other teams’ radars when general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah came short of guaranteeing he would be in the Vikings’ plans for 2023. The Dolphins emerged as a potential landing spot for the Miami native, though they have re-signed all four running backs they had last season in free agency and added a rookie (Devon Achane) at the position as well.

Adofo-Mensah recently left the door open to both Cook and backup Alexander Mattison staying together next season, but the latter could provide a cost-effective replacement option for Cook if he were to be dealt. The Vikings have also added DeWayne McBride in the seventh round of this year’s draft, giving the team added depth in the backfield.

Cook, 27, only has guaranteed money on his deal in 2023, but is set to carry cap figures between $14.1MM and $15.6MM in each of the next three seasons. As Breer notes, a re-worked contract would be needed to lower those figures and make a trade possible. Trading the four-time Pro Bowler would yield considerable cap savings both before or after June 1.

Dealing Smith after that date would also result in notable breathing space for the Vikings. The 30-year-old made it clear last month that he wanted to be released, a development which was understandably met by the team with a response indicating they would not grant that request. Smith appeared to have a deal in place to return to the Ravens last offseason, but he backed out of it to sign a three-year pact in Minnesota instead.

If he were to agree to a re-worked contract, Smith could generate trade a market for his services given his continued production (including 10 sacks last season and a third career Pro Bowl nod). Minnesota did not draft any edge rushers this weekend, which could give them added reason to keep Smith. They will entertain offers, though, which could result in a notable move or two in the near future.

Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah On RB Situation, Za’Darius Smith

The Vikings made a strong contractual commitment to longtime backup running back Alexander Mattison when the new league year opened in March, just days after reports surfaced indicating that the team was considering trading RB1 Dalvin Cook. When asked if he would have signed Mattison to a two-year, $7MM deal ($6.35M guaranteed) if he knew Cook would still be on the roster, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said that the two players can continue to co-exist, just as they have done for the past four years.

“I think in theory they could exist, of course,” Adofo-Mensah said (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk). “Different style of backs. Again, we talk about the systems we’re trying to play. Together, they’re different style of backs. They could fit complementary together, for sure.”

Nonetheless, Adofo-Mensah appeared to suggest that, even if Cook is back with Minnesota in 2023, it would not be on his current deal, which will pay him $10.4MM in 2023.

“Conversations are always ongoing with [Cook],” the GM said. “We’re trying to be solutions-oriented, always trying to put the roster together within our constraints.”

Of Cook’s $10.4MM payout, only $2MM is guaranteed as of the time of this writing. That amount became guaranteed on March 17, since Cook was still a member of the club on that date. As Florio posits, however, the team really had no way to avoid that obligation; it was already guaranteed for injury, and Cook was unlikely to pass a physical due to a lingering shoulder ailment.

As such, the fact that Cook remains on the club post-March 17 does not shed much light on his future in Minnesota, and Florio believes a trade or release is still a strong possibility. After all, the remainder of Cook’s 2023 salary does not become guaranteed until the start of the regular season. The Dolphins may no longer be interested in Cook after re-signing Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, but other RB-needy clubs will doubtlessly be tempted by the four-time Pro Bowler, especially if those clubs are unable to land a quality back in the draft.

On a related note, Adofo-Mensah said that conversations are also ongoing with LB Za’Darius Smith (Twitter link via ESPN’s Kevin Seifert). Smith requested his release last month, though it was reported at the time that the club had no intention of obliging. The edge rusher is under contract through 2024, and Seifert suggests that Smith, like Cook, could be a trade asset.

Vikings’ Za’Darius Smith Seeking Release

With the new league year approaching, all teams must reach cap compliance in the coming days. The Vikings are one of several teams with work left to do to accomplish that goal, though one veteran’s intentions would see them clear a significant amount of cap space if they were to be honored.

Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith wants to be released by Minnesota, as suggested by a tweet sent on Thursday. In it, he appears to send a farewell message to his teammates, fans and members of the organization. As Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes (on Twitter), Smith sold his house earlier this year amidst the expectation that he would be playing elsewhere in 2023.

Goessling and others report, however, that the Vikings currently have no intention of cutting the 30-year-old. Smith has two years remaining on his contract, a three-year, $42MM pact signed after he was released by the Packers. That made him a free agent for the second time in his career, allowing him to net another lucrative pact on the open market.

Smith previously appeared to have a deal in place with the Ravens, with whom he spent the first four years of his career. After terms seemed to be agreed upon, it was learned that he was moving in another direction, which opened up his intra-divisional move to the Vikings. The former fourth-rounder had a highly productive debut season in Minnesota, racking up 10 sacks, 37 pressures and one forced fumble. Those figures helped earn him a third career Pro Bowl nod.

Smith is due $32.5MM over the next two years, but none of his base salaries are guaranteed for 2023 or 2024. That would yield the Vikings cap savings of $12.2MM and $20MM, respectively, in those years, figures which would be of great importance to a team in their current financial situation. Minnesota is currently almost $16MM over the cap, and facing increased urgency to make cost-cutting moves with the start of free agency (March 15) around the corner.

That could force them to release wideout Adam Thielen (or at least restructure his current contract). Developments on that front will likely be coming soon, as they will in Smith’s case as well, as the NFC North champions look to keep as many 2022 contributors in the fold as possible while dealing with their cap constraints.