How Za’Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan Can Help Minnesota Vikings

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The Minnesota Vikings have already had an interesting and busy off-season, mainly including moves made in the front office and on the sidelines with the insertion of new leadership. The Vikings have also made some moves with pieces on the field as well, notably restructuring some contracts of current players to make room under what was becoming a rough salary cap situation.

After maneuvering some pieces around and renegotiating some contracts with players on the roster, Minnesota was able to create some space under the salary cap and even dip into free agency to fill some needs on the defensive side of the ball.

Two signings that have happened most recently have come from one of the Vikings’ division rivals, the Green Bay Packers. Two players Minnesota managed to pry away from Green Bay are linebacker Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who agreed to join the Vikings as free agents this off-season.

Smith and Sullivan will help Minnesota try to return to form on defense that we’ve seen the last few years, and the duo will play key roles in remaking and rebuilding the Vikings defensive unit. With the insertion of the two new pieces, let’s look at how Smith and Sullivan could help the purple and gold in 2022.

How Za’Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan Can Help Minnesota Vikings

Get to Know Za’Darius Smith

Smith was one of the top linebackers available on the free agent market and one that many thought Minnesota wouldn’t be able to sign given the salary cap situation the organization was in entering the off-season. But after creating some room under the salary cap, the Vikings brought in the veteran linebacker to help bolster the defensive unit in 2022.

Smith signed a three-year contract with the Vikings, leaving the rival Packers to jump the state border while now facing his former team at least twice a year. The two-time Pro Bowler spent the previous three seasons in Green Bay after starting his career in 2015 with the Baltimore Ravens until leaving in 2018.

In his most recent season in 2021, Smith sat out a majority of the year due to injury but had two Pro Bowl campaigns with the Packers in 2019 and 2020. Over those two seasons appearing in all 16 games, Smith totaled 107 combined tackles, 76 solo tackles, 60 quarterback hits, 29 tackles for loss, 26 sacks, five forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. In his first four seasons with the Ravens, the linebacker tallied 109 combined tackles, 71 solo tackles, 52 quarterback hits, 24 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles.

Smith is still a young asset that will be a valuable addition as an edge rusher in Minnesota, coming into his first season with the Vikings at 29 years old. He will not only be a key piece this year but moving forward with his new team

Get to Know Chandon Sullivan

Shortly after Smith joined the Vikings as a free agent, a Packers teammate of his joined him when Sullivan left Green Bay to also join an NFC North rival to fill in the back end of the defense. Unlike Smith though, Sullivan didn’t sign a long-term contract with Minnesota, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Vikings.

Like Smith, Sullivan is a nice young addition to Minnesota’s defense, set to turn 26 years old in August. He will be entering his fifth season in 2022 after playing the last three years with the Packers following a one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie.

In his latest season in 2021, Sullivan played in all 17 regular season games in Green Bay while starting in 10 of those games. During his fourth year, Sullivan finished with 31 combined tackles, 25 solo tackles, a career-high three interceptions, and two tackles for loss. In a total of three seasons with the Packers, the cornerback appeared in 49 games with 102 combined tackles, 84 solo tackles, five interceptions, two tackles for loss, one touchdown, and one fumble recovery. Prior to that stint in his rookie campaign with Philadelphia in 2018, Sullivan tallied seven tackles in five games.

Sullivan is still a young player who has shown consistent improvement year-over-year to this point in his career. He will no doubt assist the defensive back group in Minnesota while building the depth in that unit with a new regime taking over as play-callers with the Vikings.

How Pair of Former Packers Will Help Vikings

Smith and Sullivan are a pair of nice signings for Minnesota when many thought the organization wouldn’t be able to add too many difference-making players this off-season. Not only are they familiar with some personnel already on the Vikings, but their familiarity with each other will carry over from Green Bay to Minnesota in 2022.

The duo will feature a nice balance of pass rushing and pressure with Smith as an edge rusher and will assist in the passing game and pass coverage on the back end of the defense with Smith and company holding down that area of the defensive unit.

Smith and Sullivan should also be able to hit the ground running while already having spent time with some decision-makers on the coaching staff, notably Minnesota’s assistant head coach Mike Pettine and Vikings outside linebackers coach and pass-rush specialist Mike Smith. Smith and Sullivan spent time with Pettine while he was Packers defensive coordinator from 2018-20, and Smith also spent time with Mike Smith the past three seasons.

It’s not too often you see a pair of players and teammates make the jump from one inter-division rival to another, let alone a week or two apart in free agency during the same off-season. But Smith and Sullivan have done just that, and will now join the Vikings to face their former team at least twice per season while helping bolster Minnesota’s defense.

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