Ever since rumors first began to circulate about the impending release of veteran pass rusher Za’Darius Smith from the Green Bay Packers, a potential reunion between the two-time Pro Bowler and the Baltimore Ravens shortly followed thereafter.
When he became a free agent on March 14, he reportedly agreed to terms to return to the team that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft two days later.
Former Packers’ pass rusher Za'Darius Smith is signing a four-year, $35 million deal that has a max value of $50 million with the Baltimore Ravens, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2022
News of his deal came in the initial wave of free agency and was viewed as yet another savvy, aggressive move pulled off by Ravens’ General Manager Eric DeCosta.
However, on the day that prized free safety addition Marcus Williams and stalwart veteran right tackle Morgan Moses were officially introduced as members of the team, Smith was nowhere to be found. Soon after, reports began to surface that return of the prodigal son wasn’t quite set in stone.
Plot twist: Former #Packers pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith is not signing his deal with the #Ravens after all, sources say. He remains a free agent.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2022
After backing out of his contract in principle with the Ravens, even after they reportedly agreed to the initial revised terms, Smith remained an unrestricted free agent. DeCosta quickly pivoted and brought back another familiar face in Michael Pierce to address their need at nose tackle and then re-signed three-time Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard.
Less than a week later, the saga came to a disappointing conclusion, as Smith will be back in purple and playing in a northern division for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, it won’t be in the AFC with the Ravens. Instead, it will be in the NFC North as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, on a deal that pays more annually the Ravens’ first reported offer but is $3 million less in maximum value.
Za’Darius Smith agreed to terms with the #Vikings, source said.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 22, 2022
3 year deal
Base value of 42 million
Worth up to 47 million with incentives
14 million APY
Smith originally departed for greener pastures in the 2019 offseason following his most productive season in the final year of his rookie contract. In four seasons with the Ravens, he recorded 18.5 sacks, 52 quarterback hits and forced three fumbles. He earned back-to-back Pro Bowl bids in his first two years with the Packers after posting a combined 26 sacks, 60 quarterback hits and forced five fumbles — before a back injury limited him to just one game in 2021.
His return would’ve been a tremendous addition for a Ravens’ defense that is in need of more production from their pass rush and is under new management with first-year Defensive Coordinator Mike MacDonald.
Thankfully, there are still a handful of quality veteran options remaining in the open market, and edge defender is one of the strengths of the 2022 NFL Draft class.