Browns finalize trade for edge rusher Za'Darius Smith, exclamation point for defensive overhaul
By TOM WITHERS
CLEVELAND (AP) Za’Darius Smith has put a new edge on Cleveland's offseason defensive makeover.
The three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher officially joined the Browns on Tuesday after the team agreed last week to acquire him from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for fifth-round draft picks in 2024 and 2025.
Smith's arrival, in a deal that seemed to come out of nowhere, provides an exclamation point to the Browns' defensive line overhaul the past few months.
Through free agency, the draft and in trading for Smith, one of five players to get 10 sacks in three of the past four seasons, the Browns have given new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz more weapons up front and help for All-Pro end Myles Garrett, who has had to carry most of the load.
It's a masterful move by Browns general manager Andrew Berry, who didn't give up much to get a proven player capable of dominating.
Smith will reunite with defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, his former Vikings teammate who signed a four-year, $57 million contract in March. The Browns also signed end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who had five sacks with Houston last season, and drafted Baylor defensive tackle Siaki Ika and Missouri defensive end Isaiah McGuire.
All those pieces should strengthen a defensive line that struggled last season.
The trade also underscores Cleveland's urgency to win following a 7-10 season shaped by quarterback Deshaun Watson's 11-game NFL suspension. The Browns can't waste any more time and Berry was aggressive this offseason in addressing the team's most pressing needs.
With Smith and Garrett flanking Schwartz's D-line, Cleveland may be more aggressive in getting after the quarterback. The Browns had 34 sacks last season - 16 by Garrett - and didn't create nearly enough pressure.
Smith should help change that.
The 30-year-old had 10 sacks in 2022, his only season with the Vikings, and has 54 1/2 career sacks since breaking in with Baltimore in 2015. He's returning to the AFC North, where the Browns have to deal with Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson twice each.
The Browns didn't have to make a huge investment in Smith as the Vikings are paying part of his $11.75 million contract in 2023. But in adding another major piece to its roster, Cleveland signaled its ready to compete for a conference title now.
NOTES: The Browns added depth to their secondary, signed CB Chris Westry. The 6-foot-4 Westry was originally signed by Dallas in 2019. He played two games for the Cowboys and six with the Ravens in 2021.
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Updated May 16, 2023