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Former Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith set to visit with Vikings

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
Sep 12, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Green Bay Packers linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) stands on the sidelines during the game against the New Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was headed to Minnesota on Monday for a visit with the Vikings, according to Darren Wolfson of SKOR North. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network was the first to report on Smith’s visit.

Smith, whose agreement with Baltimore last week fell apart, had 13.5 and 12.5 sacks playing for the Green Bay Packers in 2019 and 2020, but appeared in only one game last season because of a back injury. The 29-year-old was released by the Packers this month. The Dallas Cowboys reportedly have been trying to land Smith but he continues to explore his options.

It is believed Smith is looking for a substantial payday given what some other pass-rushing linebackers have gotten on the market.

The Vikings’ switch to a 3-4 base defense likely intrigues Smith. The Vikings picked up the $18 million option on defensive end Danielle Hunter’s contract this weekend. If they elect to convert Hunter’s roster bonus to a signing bonus, the Vikings would free up $13.5 million in cap space for 2022. That move almost certainly would have to be made if the Vikings want to sign Smith.

Hunter has played only seven games in the past two seasons because of injury — he missed all of 2020 — but a healthy Hunter and Smith providing a pass rush could be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.

A fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2015, Smith had 18.5 sacks in 58 games in his first four seasons with Baltimore. He never started more than eight games in a season before signing a four-year, $66 million contract with the Packers in 2019.

Smith did not miss a start in his first two seasons in Green Bay and had 29 quarterback hits in that time.