Coming off the best season of his four-year NFL career, former Baltimore Ravens edge rusher Za’Darius Smith agreed to a four-year dream deal with the Green Bay Packers and the first thing he did was drive 14-hours to where his mother Sharon worked and asked her if she was ready to retire.
Sharon was, but Za’Darius is not, and the entire Packer Nation is counting on him to add a shot of defensive adrenaline to a team that ended their miserable 2018 with a 6-9 record and an NFC North 3rd place finish.
Not bad for an athlete who didn’t start out as a football player, so we go into Smith’s full story and how the basketball player who thought he was too short became an unlikely NFL star that opposing quarterbacks find too large, and we also go over the odds and predictions of Smith’s possible 2019 sack total.
Quick Bio: who is Za’Darius Smith?
Za’Darius Smith is a 26-year-old NFL outside linebacker who was born in Greenville, Alabama to Sharon Smith and Robert Meeks.
Smith, who is 6-foot-4, 274 pounds, played basketball at Greenville High School and was convinced it would be the sport he would also play in college.
But after his senior hoop season and little attention from college recruiters, Smith decided to do what his friends had been begging him to do for years and go out for the football team.
Is it true Smith didn’t even want to play high school football?
Yes, Smith avoided playing football mostly because his mother was afraid he would get injured, Sharon once even telling Ben Blackmon the high school football coach, “I don’t want my baby to get hurt.”
Blackmon answered, “Ma’am, have you seen your baby? He’s bigger than everybody.”
After clearing it with the rest of the team who’d already been training, Smith was allowed to play on the football team his senior year if he agreed to sign a contract that said he would come to school early to make up the workouts and stay after practice to help clean the locker room.
Smith signed the contract and began his sacking career.
How many colleges did Smith play for?
After only one season of playing high school football, Smith didn’t receiver attention from the big schools, but some two-year schools showed interest and Smith settled on East Mississippi Community College.
Then Smith transferred to the SEC, the University of Kentucky, his junior year and in twelve games that season registered 6.5 sacks, 24 tackles (7 for loss), a pass defended and a forced fumble.
In his senior year at Kentucky, Smith had 4.5 sacks, 26 tackles (7 for loss), 2 passes defended and a forced fumble and was named to the CollegeSportsMadness Third Team All-SEC.
When did Smith get drafted into the NFL?
In the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected Smith in the fourth round with the 122nd pick overall.
They agreed to a four-year deal worth $1.9 million with a $483 thousand signing bonus.
With zero postseason play during his first three seasons with the Ravens, Smith finally got a chance to taste some playoff excitement last season when the team won the AFC North but lost at home in the Wild Card game against the Los Angeles Chargers, 17-23.
How good was Smith’s production for the Ravens?
Smith was a solid enough edge rusher for the Ravens to be ranked as the 16th best free agent on the market this offseason by NFL.com.
In four seasons, Smith had 18.5 sacks, 119 combined tackles (24 for loss), 5 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles and 52 quarterback hits.
Last season, the Ravens’ defense was ranked first overall, while the Packers’ squad was 18th, so Smith will be counted on to help turn that around by bringing his ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback to Wisconsin.
Why did Smith become a free agent?
Despite a 2018 full of career highs, the Ravens didn’t keep Smith because his contract was up and the franchise tag (>$15 million), as well as the amount of money they would have had to pay to keep him, were both too great.
Losing Smith will hurt the Ravens’ pass rush, especially given that the team’s other big quarterback sacker, Terrell Suggs, also left for greener pastures, signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
After the 8.5 sacks, 45 combined tackles, 2 passes defended, a forced fumble and 25 quarterback hits Smith had in 2018, it was obvious he would have some suitors who would be willing to pay him what he is now worth on the NFL market.
When did Smith get his deal with the Packers?
On March 14, 2019, the Green Bay Packers made Smith literally cry by offering him a four-year deal worth $66 million, including a $20 million signing bonus.
Smith’s average pay for the next four seasons will be $16.5 million, making it one of the biggest deals in this NFL free agency.
Joining Smith on the other side of the Packers’ defensive box will be another free agent pickup, Preston Smith, formerly of the Washington Redskins, who last season put up 4.0 sacks, 53 combined tackles (5 for loss), 3 passes defended, 16 quarterback hits and scored a one-yard touchdown after recovering a fumble.
How will Smith help the Packers?
The Packers have actually been trying to get Smith for a while now, having attempted a different trade a few years ago.
Green Bay needed to boost their edge rushing game, and Smith does that, last season having had 61 pressures in just 458 rush snaps, which measured better than some of the top rushers in the league, including Brandon Graham, Demarcus Lawrence, and J.J. Watt.
Some experts worry that Smith might now be an overpaid mid-tier player who only had a breakout year because his contract was up, so it will be up to Smith to prove he is worth the money the Packers are paying him.
Is it true Smith asked his mother to retire?
Yes, it was actually the first thing he did when he found out the deal was done.
Smith, who was in Baltimore when he heard the news, hopped in his car and drove south for fourteen hours until he got to the Butler County Correctional Facility where his mother Sharon had worked for 22-years as a deputy.
When Smith asked her if she was ready to quit working, she said, “My bag is already packed.”
Smith told one reporter he felt it was a “blessing” to be able to help his hard-working mother retire and let her “kick her feet up” at home.
What are the current odds and predictions on Smith’s possible 2019 production?
Regardless of how many tackles or forced fumbles Smith can be responsible for, the main statistic he will be judged on with the Packers is his total number of sacks.
Again, last season Smith had 8.5 sacks, so it might be tempting to figure that he will get that same number of quarterback kills in 2019, but that has not been the case in his prior seasons.
In his first three seasons, Smith only averaged 3.3 sacks per year, so he would have to have another huge season as he did in 2018 to make the over bet worthwhile.
Here are his current odds for 2019:
Caveat: Murray must play in game one for action to commence.
Za’Darius Smith 2019 Regular Season Sacks
- Over 7.5 sacks -115
- Under 7.5 sacks -115