Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry sent a clear message on Friday to the quarterbacks that will be facing the Browns this season with the trade for defensive end Za’Darius Smith.
Pairing Smith, a three-time Pro Bowler who is one of just five players in the league to have more than 10 sacks in three of the past four seasons, with All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett means those easy Sunday afternoons of sitting in the pocket and leisurely waiting for a receiver to come open are finished.
The #Vikings are trading three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Za’Darius Smith to the #Browns, sources tell me and @TomPelissero.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 12, 2023
His reworked deal guarantees him $11.75 million in 2023 and he’ll be a FA next March. Deal negotiated by his new agent @ErikBurkhardt of @RocNationSports. pic.twitter.com/dBld2TfSzp
In his eight seasons in the league - four with the Baltimore Ravens, three with the Green Bay Packers and last season with the Minnesota Vikings - Smith has totaled 54.5 sacks, 136 quarterback hits and 68 tackles for loss.
He has also posted a pass-rush grade of 84 or higher in three of the past four seasons from Pro Football Focus, and while his work defending the run has been spotty, he has only posted one season out of the past six with a grade below 60, which for the Browns is outstanding.
Za’Darius Smith Highlights— Brad Ward (@WardonSports) May 13, 2023
EDGE - Cleveland Browns #DawgPound pic.twitter.com/EbR3stRFIg
So why was Smith available for the low, low price of a pair of fifth-round draft picks?
According to Alec Lewis at The Athletic, it was a combination of Smith wanting to move on from the Vikings after one season and Minnesota needing cap relief to finish signing their draft picks.
That is all very reasonable, but Lewis also highlights a major split in Smith’s production last season:
Through the first nine games, Smith tallied 9 1/2 sacks and a 20.8 percent pressure rate, both metrics which ranked in the top two among 164 players who accumulated 100 pass-rush snaps during that span. Then, in the final eight games, Smith totaled just 1/2 a sack and an 11.4 percent pressure rate, which ranked 130th and 63rd, respectively, during that span.
Multiple injuries hampered Smith’s play. He navigated a knee bruise as well as elbow soreness. Still, the Vikings were aware that Smith is only getting older. Smith will turn 31 in September.
There are always going to be injury concerns with a player once they hit the other side of age 30, but outside of a shoulder injury that limited him to just one game in 2021, Smith has been healthy in his career as he has played in 107 games.
The Browns will not need him to be the main guy at defensive end, either, with Garrett on the roster. Smith should benefit from being part of a rotation that now includes Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Alex Smith and Isaiah McGuire, meaning that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz can manage Smith’s snap counts, if needed, and utilize him at the right time to maximize his production.
All trades carry risk, but given that the Browns gave up so little in the trade and the Vikings had legitimate reasons to move on from Smith, Cleveland should hopefully be able to get the best of the veteran this fall.