Za’Darius Smith’s Uncertain Future Could Open Door for Reunion With the Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens have seen several former players switch teams and thrive in their new destinations. Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith is one of those players. The two-time Pro Bowler’s future with the Green Bay Packers is up in the air. However, there’s a good chance that he won’t be back for the 2022 NFL season.

The Packers front office may view Smith as a guy it can part ways with to save some money on the salary cap to make other moves in the offseason. If Green Pay cuts him, a reunion with the team that drafted him could be a strong possibility.

Za’Darius Smith could reunite with Ravens if the Packers cut him

The Green Bay Packers enter the 2022 offseason with massive questions to answer. Outside of Aaron Rodgers’ uncertain future with the team, the front office must find ways to save money.

Green Bay is currently over $48.4 million over the salary cap, which puts the team in an uncomfortable situation. Za’Darius Smith is under contract through 2022, but he does have a potential out. If the Packers retain him, he will carry a $27.7 million cap hit.

A trade wouldn’t make much sense for Green Bay, as the team would carry Smith’s contract into the new league year. Releasing the pass rusher would be the wiser move. The Packers would save nearly $15.3 million on the cap by cutting him.

If Smith eventually hits the free-agent market, it would not be surprising to see the Baltimore Ravens come knocking at his door.

Former general manager Ozzie Newsome selected Smith in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Kentucky. The Montgomery, Alabama native played four seasons in Baltimore, recording 119 tackles, 52 quarterback hits, and 18.5 sacks during that span.

The 2-time Pro Bowler would likely need to take pay cut to make it work

Packers defensive end Za'Darius Smith warms up before facing the Ravens
Za’Darius Smith of the Green Bay Packers on the field before game against the Baltimore Ravens | Will Newton/Getty Images

Surely, recently-hired defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald would love to welcome Za’Darius Smith back into the fold. Macdonald was on John Harbaugh’s coaching staff from 2015 to 2020 before taking the defensive coordinator job at Michigan. He worked directly with the linebackers in 2018, so he’s aware of what Smith can do.

The Baltimore Ravens aren’t in the best position salary cap-wise. However, they should fare much better in the offseason than the Green Bay Packers.

Baltimore heads into the offseason with almost $9.8 million in cap space. The team is below the league average ($13.4 million), but it has some room to work with. General manager Eric DeCosta will already have difficult decisions to make with his own free agents. Smith’s release could throw a wrinkle into the front office’s plans, though.

However, if Smith wants to reunite with the Ravens, he shouldn’t expect a hefty contract. Baltimore cannot afford just to throw a blank check at the 29-year-old edge defender. He signed a four-year $66 million contract with the Packers in 2019.

Za’Darius Smith would likely need to take a significant pay cut for the move to make sense financially. The trade-off would be the opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl.

Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations could make it a worthwhile gamble

The 2021 season undoubtedly didn’t end how John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens planned. The Ravens entered the year with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Unfortunately, injuries marred an otherwise promising campaign.

Baltimore finished with an 8-9 record, losing six consecutive games to close out the season. Despite a down year, best believe the Ravens expect to be back contending for a Super Bowl in 2022. Eric DeCosta and the front office have historically owned the offseason, consistently finding talent in free agency and through the draft.

Za’Darius Smith would be a massive pickup for one of the AFC’s best teams when healthy. The Ravens defense features some high-upside players on the edge in Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh. However, in Smith, Baltimore would get a guy who’s already established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the league.

The seventh-year veteran played just one game in 2021. Still, he posted back-to-back double-digit sack seasons in 2019 and 2020. His skillset and familiarity would make him a great fit in Baltimore once again. Players like Patrick Queen and Marlon Humphrey took to Twitter to send a subtle recruitment message to Smith.

It won’t be easy to pull this off, but it would be a tremendous boost to the Ravens’ Super Bowl hopes.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac

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