Za’Darius Smith is putting away the green and gold and reaching for the purple. Perhaps the Vikings owe a bit of thanks to the Twins and Wild for the addition of the elite pass rusher.
Smith visited with the Vikings on Monday. We all were made aware of this when Smith posted a picture of himself at Vikings headquarters on social media. That means he was around to hear the buzz that has swept the Twin Cities of late.
It was on Monday that the Wild completed a trade for three-time Stanley Cup champion and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. And that came three days after the Twins reached a deal with World Series champion and two-time All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa.
Smith had to get a whiff of what is cooking in the Twin Cities and must have decided, “I’ll have what they are having.”
On Tuesday, Smith agreed to a three-year contract for up to $47 million to line up opposite of Danielle Hunter in the Vikings’ new 3-4 defensive scheme. He excelled at such a role with the Packers until last season, when a back injury and surgery limited him to just 18 snaps.
In 2019, the two pass-rushing experts sat down for a talk during the Pro Bowl. Hunter signed a jersey and presented it to Smith.
“You never know,” Hunter told him at the time. “Congrats on your success and hopefully we’ll be on the same team one day.”
Smith recalled that on Tuesday, then smiled and said: “And that day has come.”
At 29, Smith should have plenty of sacks left in him. He accumulated 12.5 sacks in 2020, his last healthy season. He and Hunter will form one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league.
“A lot of quarterbacks are going to have to fear us,” Smith said.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, mindful that Smith once sacked Kirk Cousins 3.5 times and got five quarterback hits on him in a 2019 game, soon might be requesting a trade or some more offensive tackles for his own perseverance.
Smith was a one-man cheering section on Tuesday, nodding in agreement as Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah went over his career highlights. He applauded for himself as he stepped to the podium following an introduction by head coach Kevin O’Connell. Then he took his place right beside Fleury and Correa as the latest impact player to join the local sports scene.
In five days, the Twin Cities’ pro teams became a five-star destination.
“Show-rrea” is in. “Flower” is in. And now Z. Throw in the Wolves, who don’t stink anymore thanks to roster additions, the undefeated Loons and the Lynx signing Angel McCoughtry in February, and our pro sports scene now has postseason potential across the board. Stars have stopped flying over Minnesota for larger markets on one of the coasts. They are settling right here.
Keep it coming.
The Vikings will have a good offense directed by Cousins and have addressed the pass rush. But they need a cornerback like the Twins need a No. 1 starter. But if the Vikings make strides on defense they will sniff around a playoff berth in 2022.
The Wild have built up its roster with size, enforcers and a strong goaltending pair. Now coach Dean Evason has to make it all click in the push for playoff positioning.
The Wolves’ best addition has been the hiring of Chris Finch as head coach. They enter the final stretch of the regular season with a real chance of avoiding a play-in game and heading straight for the playoffs.
The Wolves, Wild, Twins and Vikings have never all played a playoff game in the same year. But a few more of these boffo roster additions, and there might be a race to be the first to schedule a championship parade.
Minnesota? Winnesota. Get ready to close schools and map out parade routes.
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