Coach Kevin Stefanski spoke to media before news of the Browns trade for defensive end Za'Darius Smith. (TheLandOnDemand)
Browns GM Andrew Berry trades for Vikings pass rusher Za’Darius Smith to fill final defensive hole
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Takeaways from Browns rookie minicamp and a trade late in the day …
The final piece to the puzzle.
That’s how I view defensive end Za’Darius Smith.
After signing and trading for 10 new veteran players, re-signing seven from last year’s roster and then drafting seven rookies, GM Andrew Berry had two holes on defense to fill.
Last week he filled the role of third safety with the signing of former Philadelphia Eagle Rodney McLeod. On Friday, Berry perhaps saved the best for last by trading with Minnesota Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, his former protégé with the Browns, for Smith -- a certifiable edge rusher-for-hire.
Berry swapped fifth-round picks in 2024 and 2025 to the Vikings for Smith and sixth- and seventh-round picks in 2025. The draft pick exchanges are negligible. Berry agreed to redo Smith’s contract, paying him a reported guaranteed $11.75 million for 2023, after which Smith can be a free agent.
The one-year deal approach, which Berry has used effectively at the left defensive end position in each of his three previous years as GM, motivates the player to post a big sack number to attract future action in free agency.
Smith, 30, was a fourth-round draft success story of the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens let him leave in free agency after his rookie contract in 2019, and Smith blossomed as a full-time edge rusher for former Browns coach Mike Pettine with the Green Bay Packers.
Smith had successive seasons of 13.5 and 12.5 sacks. A back injury reduced his 2021 season to one game, but he bounced back in 2022 with 10 sacks for the Minnesota Vikings, where he reunited with Pettine.
Smith reportedly wanted out of Minnesota. Facing salary cap pressures, Adofo-Mensah accommodated him after signing Marcus Davenport of the Saints in free agency.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com Tweeted that Smith had two other suitors but favored a move to the Browns to play opposite right end Myles Garrett. The opportunity to play for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also had to appeal to Smith.
Smith figures to be the starting left end, replacing Jadeveon Clowney, another Berry gun-for-hire, and reducing free agent signee Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to the third end in a rotation. That would allow reduced total snaps for Garrett for the purpose of keeping him fresher for the fourth quarter of games and the fourth quarter of the season.
Stefanski reacts to schedule
A new urgency was created for a fast start by the Browns when the 2023 schedule reveal called for games against division rivals Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the first four games of the season.
Nevertheless, coach Kevin Stefanski declined to say whether the tough first month division schedule would cause him to adjust his training camp and preseason strategy.
“I think we’ll get there … not yet, no,” he said. “I do think the one unique part there is having coordinators that you’ve gone against. They’ve gone against us. We’ve gone against them quite a bit over the last few years. I’m talking with Cincinnati and with Pittsburgh back-to-back, but it remains to be seen how much we adjust going through training camp and the preseason.”
Go west, young men
Stefanski confirmed he intends to keep the Browns on the West Coast between games against Denver on Nov. 29 and the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 3.
“It’s not finalized yet, but that’s definitely something that we’re considering, is staying out there in L.A. after Denver,” he said.
By training in L.A. after the Denver game, the Browns will eliminate the labor of another West Coast round-trip. Stefanski sees another benefit.
“I think it’s never a bad thing when you can get your team together in a setting,” he said.
Stefanski said he was pleased with Deshaun Watson’s plans to take about 16 offensive teammates to Puerto Rico on Monday for four days of workouts and bonding. They will miss the final week of Phase 2 voluntary offseason workouts. “I’m very appreciative of the guys that are here and working here,” the coach said. “When the guys decide that they want to get together and be a team, I’m very, very much in favor of that.” …
As expected, Ohio State linemen Dawan Jones and Luke Wypler will be cross-trained at other positions by line coaches Bill Callahan and Scott Peters. Jones, a natural right tackle, also will get reps at left tackle. Wypler, who only played center at OSU, will get reps at both guard spots, too …
Fifth-round pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be the only quarterback participating in the rookie camp. Kellen Mond, who is entering his third year, is not eligible …
Thompson-Robinson and third-round receiver Cedric Tillman were teammates at Las Vegas (NV) Bishop Gorman HS. Also on that team was safety Bubba Bolden, who was an undrafted free agent with the Seahawks last year and is now on the Browns’ roster. What a high school powerhouse that must have been, huh? “Yeah, we were real successful,” Tillman said. “We won, I think, nine straight state championships and a couple of national championships. So we were pretty good.