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Two former Packers find new home through familiarity in Minnesota


          Jamie Harmer / March 27th 2022 / Photo:

The Minnesota Vikings added two former Packers in back to back free agent signings this past week. Linebacker Za'Darius Smith and Cornerback Chandon Sullivan join a new look Vikings defense under Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell. Both Smith and Sullivan were starters in Green Bay during the 2021 season, although Smith spent almost all of his on injured reserve. The pair will undoubtedly start for the team this coming fall so lets take a look at the newest additions.

Outside Linebacker Za'Darius Smith was drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 draft(same year as Vikings Danielle Hunter) by the Baltimore Ravens. After four years with the Ravens, Smith hit free agency landing in the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers. In his first two seasons in Green Bay. Smith asserted himself as one of the leagues top pass rushers. In 2019, he rung up a career high 13.5 sacks with 37 hits on the quarterback. Following it up in 2020 with 12.5 sacks and 23 quarterback hits. Earning back to back Pro Bowl selections all the while under then Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine and Outside Linebacker Coach Mike Smith. The 2021 season, Smith entered training camp with a back injury that would sideline him for all but 18 snaps of the regular season. On September 27th, Smith underwent back surgery. On January 22nd, Smith was activated off injured reserve playing in the Packers divisional playoff game. Smith had a sack and one quarterback hit in the loss. Green Bay would end up having to cut Smith saving over $15,200,000 in cap space. After a brush with returning to the Ravens and a low ball offer from the Dallas Cowboys. Smith would wind up signing with the Vikings on a three year deal with a $42,000,000 base. No doubt that newly acquired coaches Mike Smith and Mike Pettine played a large role in the Vikings landing Smith. The beauty of it all lies in the contract. Smith has a cap hit of just $3,343,146 for 2022 with a potential out in 2023 accruing $3,333,334 in dead money. The Packers meanwhile have Smith on the books for $11,424,443 in dead money for 2022. So the Packers will be paying their former Linebacker just over three times as much to face him twice this year. It's always a win when you can stick it to the Packers. The Vikings get a much needed pass rusher to pair with Danielle Hunter. Both guys hungry and out to prove they still belong among the leagues best. This move also helps with the thin inexperienced secondary. Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah pulled in his first big splash free agent with the Za'Darius Smith signing. A very low risk high reward one at that.   

Cornerback Chandon Sullivan was a 2018 undrafted free agent that signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Sullivan spent all but five games(one start) in 2018 on the Eagles practice squad. In 2019, Sullivan signed with the Green Bay Packers playing primarily at slot corner. Although, Sullivan is seen as a middle of the pack corner in the league. He found hints of success under then Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine in 2019 & 2020. 2021 was his down year in terms of PPF ratings. Sullivan did however pull down a career high three interceptions and was ranked 10th out of 41 slot corners in the league. That's leaps and bounds above where the Vikings were ranked at that position last season. The Packers had interest in retaining Sullivan, but he opted for a change of scenery picking to sign a one year deal with the Vikings.(full details yet to be announced) Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reported Sullivan said he's a versatile player that can play slot, corner, even help at safety if needed. The one thing all of us Vikings fans know is the team needs all the help they can get at the corner position. Sullivan comes in to the 2022 season with 21 career starts under his belt. The Vikings have a long way to go when it comes to figuring out this secondary, but at least now they have a start.