Browns adding Za'Darius Smith proves the future is now

2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games
2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games / Michael Owens/GettyImages

The Cleveland Browns have added three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Za'Darius Smith to help out Myles Garrett, using Andrew Berry's seemingly inexhaustible credit card. The cost is $11.75 million for one season worth of Smith, per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Cleveland gave up two fifth-round draft picks in 2024 and 2025, and in exchange, they get a Round 6 and Round 7 pick in 2025. This may seem like deja vu all over again to Browns fans because Berry made a poor decision on former All-Pro Jadeveon Clowney, who just didn't have enough gas left in the tank last season.

He then left the Browns with a multimillion-dollar bill for guarantees that have to be charged to the cap this season and next. However, there are reasons to believe that Smith is a better investment than Clowney was, and the risk to the salary cap and draft portfolio can be managed.

Browns fans will remember Smith, who spent time in their offensive backfield for four seasons from 2015 to 2018. The only problem was that he was a Baltimore Raven during that time. He generated 19 tackles, 2.5 sacks, seven QB hits, and two forced fumbles against Cleveland. For his career, he has 54.5 sacks, and 271 tackles in essentially seven seasons (he played only one game in 2021).

That's not too far off Garrett, who has 74.5 sacks and 263 tackles in seven seasons for the Browns. However, Smith was slowed by a knee contusion in the second half of 2022. A contusion is essentially a deep bruise, and though very painful, it is an injury that an athlete can fully recover from.

He's not likely to be Clowney 2.0. However, he will be 31 on September 8, which suggests that the Browns would be better in a rotation of defensive linemen rather than taking 100 percent of the snaps. That's true for all linemen but it just makes sense for guys over the age of 30.

Last season, it was easy to scheme against the Browns. Just double-team Garrett, and do whatever you want with the other three guys up front. Now, they can still double-team No, 95, but there's a consequence, with two Pro Bowlers up front, namely Dalvin Tomlinson and Smith on the same line.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is also a talent at defensive end. We don't know yet about big Siaki Ika, but at least he weighs over 300 pounds, which is more than could be said for previous candidates at the position. Browns DTs were simply bullied by bigger, stronger opponents over the past few years.

Cleveland's spending every last penny of cap space this season. Their strategy is definitely to try and win the Super Bowl with Deshaun Watson and keep the window open as long as possible.

2023 is just great, with terrific signings on the defensive line with Smith joining Dalvin Tomlinson and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, plus Juan Thornhill plugging the hole at free safety that has existed since forever. In 2023 these players are affordable on the first-year discount on their new contracts. To survive 2024 and beyond, the Browns must depend upon the Bank of Watson.

Even then, it might not be a death sentence. Many observers thought there would be no way out for the New Orleans Saints when Drew Brees retired. They had an amazing run from 2017 to 2020, averaging 12.3 wins versus 3.7 losses.

When Brees retired, they were stuck with multiple veteran contracts in addition to his. Somehow, however, they did okay, using Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston as their quarterbacks while they paid down the voidable year bonuses they gave to their players.

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They still averaged 8.0 wins over the past two years, which is not bad for a team in salary cap hell. If the Saints survived, perhaps the Browns can survive also even if worse comes to worst.