Za'Darius Smith said this week he's happy about a "fresh start" with the Cleveland Browns, but he wasn't pleased with the idea of playing out a three-year contract he signed last year with the Vikings. That unhappiness led to Minnesota trading Smith this month.
"It wasn't set up right," Smith told Cleveland reporters. "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."
Smith initially said goodbye to "Skol Nation," his teammates and coaches in a March 9 social media post. But the Vikings didn't settle with a trade partner until May 12, when Smith was dealt to the Browns for two late-round pick swaps and a reported agreement for the Vikings to pay some of his salary.
Smith had just $6.45 million guaranteed at signing with the Vikings, all paid last year. But he did have $5.05 million become guaranteed in March (of a previously scheduled $9.45 million base salary for this season). Most of that money will be paid by Cleveland in a restructured contract.
Smith still accounts for $4.5 million in the Vikings' cap space this year, according to OverTheCap.com. He would've taken up less – about $3.3 million in space – if released before that March deadline. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah essentially spent the roughly $1.2 million in cap space for the improved draft capital. The Vikings swapped 2025 sixth- and seventh-round picks for the Browns' fifth-round choices in 2024 and 2025.
And Smith, on his fourth NFL team, got what he wanted in a fresh start.
"It's the beginning of something special," he said.
Smith, who has also played for the Ravens and Packers, was a force for the Vikings before a knee injury suffered in Week 10 at Buffalo. Smith had 9.5 sacks in the first nine games, and just a 0.5 sack in the last eight games, including the playoff loss.
Smith said he was driven to play by the weekly roster bonus written into his Vikings contract after he'd missed the majority of the 2021 season in Green Bay due to a back injury.
"I couldn't rest last year," Smith said. "I was making like (about $176,000) 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 (this offseason)."
"I wasn't as effective as I was at the beginning," he added, "but I'm all healthy now and ready to go."