Ravens Bring Back Pro Bowl OLB Za’Darius Smith After Release From Packers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have certainly welcomed back their fair share of former players over the years during the Mike Tomlin era. They just did it with B.J. Finney last year, off the top of my head. Perhaps the most notable I can think of on the fly is with Bryant McFadden, who signed a big contract with the Arizona Cardinals after the 2008 season, only for them to trade for him in 2010 to get him back.

The Baltimore Ravens have this same habit, and it’s one that has remained alive and well under general manager Eric DeCosta, which was on full display yesterday. Needing pass-rush help, they were able to bring back one of their own, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who cashed in during free agency with the Green Bay Packers a couple of years ago, even made the Pro Bowl.

Originally drafted in the fourth round out of Kentucky (yes, he played with Bud Dupree), Smith spent his Ravens career as a rotational starter behind established veterans, but he produced enough to earn a four-year, $66 million contract in 2019 from Green Bay. Earlier this offseason, in the final year of his deal, however, they let him go—carrying a $11,424,443 million dead money charge against their cap.

They had to decide between him and re-signing Preston Smith at the outside linebacker position, and they also worked to retain inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, so cuts had to be made somewhere, and Za’Darius Smith was one of them—to the Ravens’ benefit.

They quickly re-signed their own, reportedly on a four-year, $35 million contract that could rise to a total earnings of $50 million through incentives. He is coming off of an injury-plagued season, however, during which he played in just one game, dealing with a back injury since before reporting to training camp. He ended up having back surgery in late September after initially trying to play through the injury. He did return in time for the postseason, registering a sack on 19 snaps in the Packers’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

During his two full season with Green Bay, Smith registered 26 sacks with 60 quarterback hits, 29 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, and two passes defensed. He proved to be more than just a pass rusher, as well, adept against the run.

Assuming that he is healthy, he provides an immediate boost for a Ravens defense that has lacked in the pass-rush department in recent years. They had just 37 sacks as a team last season, with Tyus Bowser leading the way at seven. Rookie first-round pick Odafe Oweh was second with five, and veteran free agent Justin Houston had 4.5. Nobody else had more than two.

With Smith, and Oweh now heading into his second season, Baltimore could potentially have its best pass rush it has had in years. The last time they had more than 43 sacks in a season was in 2014, and it’s mostly been under 40 since then. That year, they got 17 sacks from Elvis Dumervil and 12 from Terrell Suggs—along with seven from Pernell McPhee, who is yet another outside linebacker of theirs who cashed in during free agency only to circle back.

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