Za'Darius Smith reveals cause of 2022 struggles with Vikings

Cleveland Browns DE Za'Darius Smith
Cleveland Browns DE Za'Darius Smith / Nick Cammett/GettyImages

Now with the Cleveland Browns, Za'Darius Smith began the 2022 season with the Minnesota Vikings on absolute fire. During his first nine games with the Vikings, Smith used his relentless pass-rushing skills to rack up 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss.

Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in Minnesota's dramatic Week 10 win over the Buffalo Bills, and his performance in 2022 was never the same after that.

Unable to work out any of Smith's contract requests this offseason, the Vikings ultimately wound up trading the veteran pass rusher to the Browns earlier this month. On Wednesday, Smith shared some info about what potentially resulted in his struggles with Minnesota during the second half of last season.

Cleveland Browns DE Za'Darius Smith blames contract for 2022 struggles with Minnesota Vikings

When speaking to local Cleveland reporters on Wednesday, Smith was asked about the health of his knee, and he made sure to let everyone know why he never really had the opportunity to recover from his injury last season with the Vikings.

"A lot of people didn't know it, [but in] my contract, I had it where I had to play every game to get my bonus. So in certain situations, coaches would just tell me 'give it all you can and then we'll just rest you from there.' So I wasn't as effective as I was at the beginning of the season, but I'm all healthy now, [and] ready to go."

The former Minnesota defender went on to share that he earned a bonus of around $200,000 just for being active for each game last season and that most people would probably suit up each week too if they were in his position.

Looking back, the Vikings probably wish they would have forced Smith to sit out a few games to help his knee recover. Then Minnesota might have had a better chance at making some actual noise in the playoffs if Smith was able to perform closer to how he was during the first half of the season.

The veteran pass rusher was clearly determined to earn that weekly bonus though, and he had every right to do so. But things might have worked out a little better for Smith and the Vikings in 2022 if he had just missed a few matchups to help his knee heal.