Za’Darius Smith is returning to the team that drafted him seven years ago, signing a four-year, $35 million with the Baltimore Ravens, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday. The deal has a max value of $50 million.
The 29-year-old linebacker was cut by the Green Bay Packers earlier this week in a cost-saving move due to salary-cap constraints stemming from the signing of Aaron Rodgers and the potential attempt to retain wide receiver, Davante Adams. On the same day Smith was released, Green Bay signed Preston Smith to a four-year, $52.5 million extension.
After accruing 119 tackles and 8.5 sacks with the Ravens from 2015 to 2018, Smith signed on with the Packers where he experienced an uptick in production as a pass rusher. He posted 13.5 sacks in his first year in Green Bay followed by 12.5 in 2020.
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His ascent as one of the premier pass-rushing linebackers was put on hold when he suffered a season-ending back injury that required surgery in Week 1.
The decision to cut Smith saved the Packers $15.75 million in cap space.
By bringing back Smith, Baltimore is hoping to spark a dormant defense that was a shell of its former resolute self in 2021. The Ravens’ defense ranked 19th overall, containing the worst pass defense in the entire NFL while accruing just 34 sacks all season — ranked 24th in the league.