Former Vikings TE Bolts for NFC Rival With Irv Smith Jr. Out: Report

Chris Herndon

Getty Former Vikings tight end Chris Herndon (89) signed with the Saints, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported.

The same day the Minnesota Vikings announced No. 1 tight end Irv Smith Jr. would miss the remainder of training camp, another former Vikings tight end signed elsewhere in the NFC.

“Free agent TE Chris Herndon IV is expected to sign with the #Saints, source said. The former #Jets starter played last year with the #Vikings,” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted on August 2.

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Smith suffered a thumb injury at training camp on August 1, head coach Kevin O’Connell revealed the next day. He hasn’t been ruled out of the season opener against the Green Bay Packers.

“The best move moving forward to fix that thing,” O’Connell said in a brief statement on Tuesday, August 2. “He had surgery today. With that being the decision, we really have a focus on that opener. We still feel very strongly about our process to get him back and hopefully have him, barring any setbacks, having him available for that opener.”

However, Herndon was a fill-in for Smith before and would be the most experienced pass-catching tight end on the roster if Smith does miss extended time.

Herndon Had Replaced Smith Before

Herndon was Minnesota’s contingency plan in 2021 after Smith underwent season-ending meniscus surgery just two weeks before the season opener last summer.

The Vikings traded the New York Jets a fourth-round pick for Herndon and a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft last August for Herndon, who played in the second tight end role under Tyler Conklin, who inked a three-year, $21 million deal with the Jets in free agency last spring.

Herndon reeled in just four receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown last season. His 76 receptions across his four-year career dwarfs the 11 combined career receptions across the entire tight-end room in Minnesota without Smith. Herndon played the second-most snaps (184) at tight end in 2021 for the Vikings compared to Conklin’s 924 offensive snaps.

But with Herndon shipping off to the Saints and mainstays at tight end like Smith, Conklin and Kyle Rudolph gone, the Vikings will have to make do with their current tight-end corps the rest of training camp.

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11 Receptions

Yes, the Vikings have only 11 career receptions remaining in their tight-end room.

Johnny Mundt, a former Los Angeles Rams tight end who came to Minnesota with O’Connell and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips, accounts for 10 of those receptions.

Ben Ellefson is primarily a blocking tight end, seeing just five targets last season, while Zach Davidson, a 2021 fifth-round pick, is a receiving tight end, has yet to adapt to the physicality of both run- and pass-blocking in the NFL.

All three returning tight ends should see more reps with Smith out for the foreseeable future along with undrafted rookie Nick Muse.

Phillips offered praise for all the team’s rostered tight ends following the news that Smith would miss significant time, saying they’ll have opportunities ahead of them.

“Anytime someone is dinged up we all feel for Irv with how hard he’s worked in the offseason to get to where he’s at. But it just gets other guys opportunities to get in there and show what they can do,” Phillips added. “We got a big group of guys in there that are kind of vying for roles it will be good for them to get some more reps and see how that plays out.”

Davidson shined during a two-minute drill on August 1, when Smith originally suffered the thumb injury. His 6-foot-6 frame and receiving skillset could lend itself useful enough for the 2021 fifth-round pick to make a case for a roster spot this season.

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