The Minnesota Vikings made due to a bad situation, sending a disgruntled Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns in a trade that essentially swaps two draft picks.
Minnesota gave Smith away to the Browns primarily to clear up their finances for future years after a financial disagreement with the Pro Bowl pass rusher prompted him to announce his demand for a trade in March.
The Vikings, who still need to create cap space to sign their rookie class and close on several contract extensions this offseason, needed to shed Smith’s contract to free up their finances.
That’s in essence what the trade was about, however, Minnesota did not realize all of the cap-saving potential in the trade, Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot reported on May 12.
“Before the trade, the Vikings had about $1.096 million in cap space for the second-last time in the NFL, according to Over the Cap. The move cleared $12.156 million with a dead cap charge of about $3.33 million, but the Vikings didn’t realize the entire savings,” Cabot wrote. “When the Browns reworked Smith’s contract to pay him $11.75 million guaranteed in 2023, the Vikings footed some of the bill, a league source said.”
How much of Smith’s salary the Vikings will cover has yet to surface, however, offloading his cap hit to a willing suitor and getting something in return is better than a potential holdout or losing him for nothing.
The Vikings also received fifth-round picks in 2024 and 2025, while sending sixth- and seventh-round picks in 2025 to Cleveland.
Za’Darius Smith is the 1st Domino in Several Star Moves for Vikings
When the Vikings started voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) this month, three players were absent and yet to show face at the TCO Performance Center — Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter and Smith.
All three Pro Bowers entered the offseason entrenched in contract disputes with the organization, a result of a lack of cap space this season. Smith was the first domino to fall in a series of moves that will define this offseason.
Cook is another candidate to either be cut or traded as early as June 1 after his efficiency plummeted last season while his cap hit ($14.10 million) skyrockets in 2023. Meanwhile, Hunter has had issues with the contract he signed back in 2018 for years and is in the final year of the deal with only $7.15 million in guarantees this season.
Smith’s sendoff could be a sign of an extension coming for Hunter, who will be joined by incoming edge rusher Marcus Davenport.
Cook is likely to be moved in the offseason for little draft capital in another cost-saving move to create space to extend Justin Jefferson or TJ Hockenson this summer.
Vikings Cannot Step Forward Without Defense in 2023
The hopes of a transformation of Minnesota’s defense went out the window along with Smith. This roster is still a step behind being a true contender after the losses of Eric Kendricks, Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson and Smith.
However, this season is looking like a growing year for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s two draft classes, which are primarily defensively dominant.
It’s a similar song and dance to Mike Zimmer once did in rehabilitating the league’s worst defense in 2013. The Vikings had a few key pieces already but needed a buffer year in 2014 before the defense became one of the most-feared units in the league.
Flores’ defense doesn’t need to be as dominant considering the investment on the other side of the ball. However, there’s little cap room this season to plug in the veteran talent needed to ease the overhaul.
However, the 2024 season is looking like an ideal offseason to reload with prized free agents with nearly $40 million in cap space potentially available upon Cook and Smith’s departure from the cap sheet.
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