The Minnesota Vikings‘ biggest free-agency acquisition came to fruition on Tuesday.
Signing former Green Bay Packers edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, a two-time Pro Bowler, to a three-year contract on March 22, the Vikings defense is set to have one of the league’s most formidable pass-rush duos in Smith and Danielle Hunter.
With a pair of Pro Bowlers as bookends on the Vikings defensive front, Smith spoke on his expectations for the upcoming season.
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‘They’re Going to Have to Fear Us’
Spending two seasons in Green Bay, Smith has no hard feelings towards the Packers but is set on dethroning his former team and the three-time NFC North champions.
I’m happy to be here to be Minnesota Viking. I want to thank the coaching staff, GM, the ownership for blessing me with this opportunity,” Smith said in an introductory press conference on March 22. “First thing to work on is winning the (NFC) North. I’m going to come in and do everything I need to do to help this team improve.”
Smith and Hunter now form one of the league’s most lethal pass-rushing duos to help the Vikings compete in the division. In 2019, Smith and Hunter were the league’s top two leaders in pressures. Smith posted an NFL-best 93 pressures, while Hunter was second with 88 pressures, per Pro Football Focus.
Now facing Aaron Rodgers at least twice a year for the foreseeable future, Smith said opposing quarterbacks should be wary.
“It’s going to be fun. I talked to Danielle Hunter yesterday that I was going to be coming here and signing and he was like, ‘Okay, now we can be one of the best duos in the league,’ ” said Smith, who will be signed with cap savings created from Hunter restructuring his contract. “A lot of quarterbacks, they’re going to have to fear us. It’s going to be good at the end, but we’re facing some great teams in the (NFC) North. Our main focus is to win the (NFC) North. To get in and help my teammates complete that, I’m all here for it.”
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Vikings Coaches Stood on the Table for Smith
Smith enters the Vikings locker room as a perfect fit for the 3-4 defensive scheme being installed in Minnesota. Reuniting with former Green Bay coaches Mike Pettine and Mike Smith, Z. Smith can assume a tailor-made role for him.
Pettine, who was defensive coordinator for the Packers from 2018 to 2020, helped Z. Smith make back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances in 2019 and 2020, averaging 13 sacks per season with the Packers.
Head coach Kevin O’Connell said both Pettine and Smith “stood on the table” for Z. Smith.
“Those two guys stood on the table to get this guy here and they couldn’t be more excited to get him here,” O’Connell said of Z. Smith. “His energy has resonated throughout this building since he’s walked in here.”
Z. Smith played as a “rover” pass rusher in Green Bay, where he lined up anywhere the weakest link was on the opposing offensive front. Z. Smith admitted he never saw himself as a versatile weapon in that role, but Pettine’s belief in him helped unlock his Pro Bowl potential.
“Mike Pettine, he saw before I even saw it. I became dominant at it. He made situations where he could create one on ones. Up on the center. Up on the guards… I can pick the weakest link,” Z. Smith said. “I’m just happy, man. Coach Mike Pettine drew that up to be a rover position that I can be dominant at if we run that here in Minnesota.”