Why Browns’ trade for Za’Darius Smith is latest aggressive step to upgrade defensive front
On Thursday we learned that the Browns will open and close the 2023 season against Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
On Friday, the Browns added another pass rusher they hope can help disrupt Burrow and help close the gap on the reigning AFC North champions.
In an unexpected and cheap trade, the Browns acquired three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Za’Darius Smith from the Vikings. The Browns get Smith, a sixth-round pick in 2025 and a seventh-round pick in 2025, and the Vikings get two fifth-round picks, one in 2024 and one in 2025.
The Browns weren’t done on the defensive end, despite having previously signed defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson from the Vikings and edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo from the Texans, and lines of communication between the salary-capped Vikings and the Browns have always been open. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is in his second year at the helm; He came to Minnesota after spending a year in Cleveland working under Browns general manager Andrew Berry, who had been amassed with fifth-round picks and was waiting for such a trade opportunity to present itself.
Smith (1.80 meters tall, 110 kilograms) turns 31 in September, just before the season opener. As part of the deal, he has agreed to revise his contract and become a free agent after the 2023 season. the athlete has confirmed Smith is guaranteed to make $11.75 million in 2023, and the Browns can make that happen with the more than $9 million made after June 1 following the release of safety John Johnson III by the team become available. The Browns had an estimated $7.3 million in free play as of Friday, according to Spotrac.
In Smith, the Browns are getting a player who should be motivated to pull off another big win and who has been dominant at times in his eight-year career. He had 10 sacks in his only season in Minnesota and has 54.5 sacks in his career. The Packers dropped Smith in March 2022 after a shoulder injury limited him to just one game in 2021, and he was expected to peak at more than $27 million in the 2022 season.
Browns acquire Za’Darius Smith from Vikings
The Vikings signed Smith to a three-year contract a week after the Packers fired him, and Smith earned the second-best Pro Football Focus grade of his career with an 82.2 in 2022. His 53 quarterback hurries through PFF was also the second most of his career.
This feels like another spring win for the Browns, who knew the Vikings had major cap issues and were able to sign Smith for a Day 3 pick swap. The Browns previously guaranteed Okoronkwo more than $12 million, but the Browns likely learned a few lessons from their Jadeveon-Clowney experiment going sideways late last season. One is that you can never have enough pass rushers, especially the rare ones; The other is that one-year situations may be best for employing these talented players.
The Browns are pretty much in full swing for the 2023 season. You already knew that, and this step confirms it. The Browns plan to be a much higher-scoring team with a fully eligible Deshaun Watson in 2023, and they want to play with the lead and unleash Myles Garrett, Smith and Okoronkwo against opposing quarterbacks. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s best defenses have always had talented defensive linemen, and the Browns are not only banking on Smith’s talent but are also envisioning a rotation that will keep Garrett fresher than previous seasons and give Schwartz more options in shaping his Pass rush can give plans. Alex Wright, a 2022 third-round pick, and 2023 fourth-round pick Isaiah McGuire are both tall enough to play indoors in Schwartz’ pass-down packages and can learn from their older teammates.
A fourth-round pick in 2015, Smith became a regular with the Ravens and had his best season in Baltimore with 8.5 sacks in 2018 before making his first free agency move ahead of the 2019 season. He had 25 sacks in his first two years with the Packers.
Though the defensive line has always been the Browns’ number one need this offseason, we’ve now seen them double-dip through trades, free-agent signings, and the draft on both the pass rusher and wide receiver. Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski should feel the urgency after the Browns finished fourth in the AFC North last season, and that move seems to fit with the kind of aggression the Browns should display when trying to make their strengthen defense.
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)