The team, which still has him under contract, reportedly doesn't want him gone.
The mix-up started when the Pro Bowl pass-rusher tweeted his good wishes to the fanbase in the afternoon. Anyone who follows the NFL will recognize the tweet as the player's announcement he's moving on, so it stood to reason Smith knew he was about to become yet another NFL salary cap casualty.
I just want to say “Thank you!” to Skol Nation for an amazing season & experience! Thank you to all of my Teammates, Coaches & the entire Minnesota Vikings Organization! 💜 pic.twitter.com/LAVAy5jptS
— Za'Darius Smith (@zadariussmith) March 9, 2023
Per Over the Cap, Smith was still under contract for the next two seasons and was owed a $9.45 million base salary next season with more than $4.5 million in bonuses. His salary cap number for 2023 came out to roughly $15.5 million with $3.3 million in dead money if he were released, bearing out to $12.2 million in cap savings if he's released.
Given that the same site currently has the Vikings at roughly $15.8 million over the cap, the move would have made some sense, even though Smith was a major asset last season for the 13-4 Vikings. Smith posted 10 sacks, 44 total tackles and 15 tackles for loss, earning Pro Bowl honors for the third time of his career.
However, 10 minutes after Smith's tweet, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that while Smith had requested his release, likely in pursuit of a more lucrative deal, the Vikings are actually not interested in cutting him loose.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 9, 2023
Whichever way the situation resolves, be it Smith staying with the Vikings, getting his release or reworking his current deal, it's already an odd look for a player who joined the Vikings under curious circumstances in the first place.
Last offseason, Smith was released by the Green Bay Packers after missing much of 2021 with a back injury. He quickly struck a deal with his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, for four years and $35 million, but he later backed out of the deal to sign a more lucrative one with the Vikings.
Smith now stands to make even more money if he hits free agency after a strong comeback season. Unfortunately, he actually is under contract this time.