CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns’ defensive line has gone from disappointing to perhaps dominant.
Cleveland, which has spent the offseason upgrading a unit that underperformed in 2022, agreed Friday night to acquire three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Za’Darius Smith from the Minnesota Vikings, a person familiar with the deal told the Associated Press.
The Browns are sending fifth-round picks in 2024 and 2025 to the Vikings for Smith, a sixth-round pick in 2025 and a seventh-rounder in 2026, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the teams had not announced the swap.
In Cleveland, Smith will be paired up front with All-Pro end Myles Garrett, one of the NFL’s best edge rushers.
Shortly after news of the trade broke, the Browns posted a photo of a smiling Garrett without any caption.
The 30-year-old Smith had 10 sacks last season, his first with Minnesota, and has 54 1/2 since breaking in with Baltimore in 2015. He signed a three-year, $42 million contract with the Vikings before last season, with $11.5 million guaranteed.
After going 7-10 last season, the Browns made revamping their defense a priority. They’ve done so with the signings of free agent tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and safety Juan Thornhill.
Smith should give the Browns two players capable of disrupting the pocket and another weapon for new coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Smith enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in 2022 with the Vikings after a back injury in 2021 limited him to one game with Green Bay.
Smith had 8 1/2 of his sacks over the first seven games, though, and his pressure rate dropped off significantly over the second half of the schedule. The only game he missed was the meaningless regular-season finale, but a nagging knee injury limited his impact.
With a scheduled salary cap hit of more than $15 million, Smith became an obvious candidate for release or trade for the cap-strapped Vikings. Smith even posted a message on Twitter in March that had strong farewell vibes and thanked the entire organization for an “amazing season and experience.”
Two months later, the departure finally came — saving the Vikings more than $12 million in cap space.
The Vikings ran a 3-4 scheme for their base defense, with Smith and Danielle Hunter at the outside linebacker spots, but Schwartz’s 4-3 system will make Smith more of a traditional defensive end. He played in a 3-4 over three seasons with the Packers, too.
Marcus Davenport, who signed as a free agent after leaving New Orleans, will be first in line to fill Smith’s role opposite Hunter.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.
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