A former Packers passer visited the Vikings on Monday.
Za’Darius Smith, who was released by Green Bay last week as part of a cost-cutting move, continued his free agent tour with a stop at the TCO Performance Center. Smith documented the trip in her Instagram story, showing how the Vikings rolled out the purple carpet with a welcome message on the big screen overlooking TCO Stadium at the team’s headquarters. The visit continued Monday evening.
Smith, 29, is also interested in the Chiefs and Cowboys, a league source said. He apparently has options after apparently walking away from a verbal agreement last week with the Ravens, where he started his NFL career as a fourth-round pick in 2015. He was drafted one round after the Vikings selected Danielle Hunter, who Smith could partner with to create a powerful pass rush if the Vikings eventually sign him.
Smith just underwent back surgery in September that limited him to just one game for the Packers last season. He had 26 sacks between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, when new Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine was Green Bay’s defensive coordinator. The Vikings also hired Smith’s former post coach in Green Bay, outside linebackers coach Mike Smith, for the same role in Minnesota. The passer’s career single-game record came against the Vikings when Smith had 3.5 sacks at US Bank Stadium in December 2019.
If the Vikings can afford it, the defense could use Smith’s talent and experience on the verge of a new 3-4 front under coordinator Ed Donatell. Outside of Hunter, Minnesota has 16 career starts at that position — all from late third-year DJ Wonnum. Patrick Jones, Janarius Robinson and Kenny Willekes are also under contract.
The Packers released Smith, a two-time Pro Bowler, last week to save more than $15 million in salary cap space. The Vikings would likely need to free up some space to add a player of Smith’s caliber. One way could be to convert Hunter’s recent roster bonus into a signing bonus to spread cap fees over future seasons.
The NFL free agent market has been kind to veterans on the cutting edge this month. Five players – Maxx Crosby of the Raiders, Von Miller of the Bills, Harold Landry of the Titans, Chandler Jones of the Raiders and Haason Reddick of the Eagles – have agreed contracts worth at least $15 million per season and at minus $30 million. in guarantees. The contract Smith canceled in Baltimore was worth up to $12.5 million a year.
Smith only played 18 snaps last season. They came in the Packers’ season opener as he attempted to play despite a nagging back injury he suffered while reporting to training camp. He spent time on the non-football injured list during camp and landed on injured reserve after surgery.
“It would have been nice to have him there all the time, because our defense was playing at a very high level,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said of Smith during the scouting meeting. the NFL this month. “What Za’Darius can bring is definitely something we’ve missed sometimes, you know? Really proud of Rashan [Gary] and Jonathan Garvin and Preston [Smith] and these guys, the way they took over. Za’Darius is a very, very good player.”
Meanwhile, Bills offensive lineman Ryan Bates is expected to continue his free agent tour in Chicago on Tuesday, according to a league source. Bates, the 25-year-old guard who started five games for Buffalo last year, visited the Vikings last week and recently completed a trip to the New England facility on Monday. He’s a restricted free agent, which means the Bills can match any offer he receives.