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Breakdown of DE Za’Darius Smith’s contract with the Browns

A look at how much Andrew Berry re-structured the contract for the Browns’ defensive end.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

In May, the Cleveland Browns pulled off the surprising deal to acquire DE Za’Darius Smith from the Minnesota Vikings. A few contract-related details were initially reported when the deal happened, but now, Over the Cap and Spotrac have shed more light on the full breakdown of the deal. At it’s core, Smith’s deal is a 1-year, $10.5 million deal, but let’s see how Browns general manager Andrew Berry structured it for salary cap purposes.

DE Za’Darius Smith’s Contract, Cap Hits Per Year

Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Total Cap Hit
Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Total Cap Hit
2023 $1,165,000 $1,867,000 $0 $3,032,000
2024 $1,210,000 $1,867,000 $0 $3,077,000
2025 $0 $1,867,000 $0 $1,867,000
2026 $0 $1,867,000 $0 $1,867,000
2027 $0 $1,867,000 $0 $1,867,000
Total $2,375,000 $9,335,000 $0 $11,710,000
  • Smith has $10.5 million fully guaranteed, which includes a $9.335 million signing bonus, and his base salary ($1.165 million) for the 2023 season.
  • If we’re calling this a one-year deal, you may look at it and think, “Wait a minute — why is there a base salary for 2024, doesn’t that make it a two-year deal?” Technically, yes, but Spotrac notes that 2024 is built as a dummy year for post-June 1st cut designation purposes. Let’s dive into what that means.
  • Signing bonuses are always pro-rated over the life of the contract. If Cleveland were truly just giving Smith a 1-year deal, their cap hit would be the full $10.5 million in 2023. They don’t want the cap hit to be that high this year, so that they have space for some additional moves. Therefore, they kick the can down the road by creating the dummy year (2024) and void years (2025-2027), allowing them to spread out the $9.335 million signing bonus over the span of five years. Now, the signing bonus charge in 2023 is only $1.867 million, bringing the cap hit in 2023 to only $3.032 million.
  • But how does this dummy year work in 2024? He’ll still be under contract for part of the league year, but at some point (either on the second or third day of the new league year), his contract will void, making him a free agent. If the Browns just let the contract void, then the remaining four years of that signing bonus would accelerate to dead cap totaling $7.468 million in 2024.
  • What Cleveland will do, though, is pretty much the same thing they did with DE Jadeveon Clowney this past offseason: on the first day of the new league year, they will cut Smith and declare him a post-June 1st cut. That will allow Smith’s cap hit in 2024 to be $1.867 million (his base salary will go away), and then the remaining $5.601 million will become a dead cap hit in 2025. Kicking the can down the road — but it’s a strategy that some teams like because down the road, you know the total salary cap will continue to grow and grow, allowing you to make up for that dead cap you owe.
  • In the previous bullet point, I noted that Smith’s 2024 base salary would just “go away” when he’s cut. You may wonder, “what’s the significance of even including a dollar value [$1.210 million]” to begin with? Well, if a player is under contract for any part of a league year, they must at least have the minimum base salary listed for the number of years they’ve been in the league. If you look at the minimum salary chart here for players in the league 7+ years, that minimum amount is $1.21 million in 2024. It’s meaningless for our purposes, but that is why that value is listed.
  • The actual reality of Smith’s contract once this whole scenario plays out next season will look like this, as far as cap hits go:

Actual Reality of DE Za’Darius Smith’s Contract in 2024

Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Total Cap Hit
Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Total Cap Hit
2023 $1,165,000 $1,867,000 $0 $3,032,000
2024 $0 $1,867,000 $0 $1,867,000
2025 $0 $5,601,000 $0 $5,601,000
Total $1,165,000 $9,335,000 $0 $10,500,000

Now that year-by-year contract details are available for all of the new players that Cleveland has acquired, I’ll be going back over the next few days to break down all of their contracts.