The new Minnesota Vikings regime put its stamp on the future of the tight end position by making a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.
Minnesota sent second- and third-round picks to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson and a pair of fourth-round picks. Hockenson, who had his fifth-year option exercised by the Lions in the offseason, is due $9.6 million, fully guaranteed, next season.
He’s likely to receive a contract extension in the offseason so the Vikings can push those guaranteed earnings down the line and create cap space for more signings this offseason as an emerging contender in the NFC.
That leaves Irv Smith Jr.’s future in question.
Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson spoke with a source on Smith’s chances of remaining in Minnesota.
And the message was clear.
Vikings Insider Says Irv Smith Jr. is a ‘Lame Duck’
During the 2021 preseason, Smith was poised to have a breakout season as the team’s top tight end following the departure of Kyle Rudolph.
Unfortunately, a knee injury foiled Smith’s chances of making an impact before the season. He underwent meniscus surgery and missed the entire 2021 season.
This season is a contract year for Smith, who had one last chance to make an impression in Minnesota. However, a high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals was the harbinger that his time with the Vikings may be over.
After an MRI on Monday, Smith is expected to miss “8 to 10 weeks,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, prompting the Vikings to find their tight end of the future elsewhere.
The blockbuster trade for the Pro Bowl tight end is expected to vault the Vikings offense to another level.
Meanwhile, a source close to the Vikings told Tomasson Smith is done in Minnesota.
“He’s a lame duck,” the source told Tomasson.
Vikings Look Poised in Reactionary Trade
Losing Smith for what’s expected to be the rest of the regular season was a huge blow to the Vikings.
It could be argued Minnesota would have looked at other positions at the trade deadline had Smith not gotten injured two days before the trade deadline.
However, the Vikings kept Smith’s timeline to return under wraps, which worked in their favor in the trade with Detroit. Kevin O’Connell said Smith was “week-to-week” in a Monday press conference just 24 hours before the trade deadline.
Had any information leaked, the Lions could have driven up the price on Hockenson, a 25-year-old tight end entering his prime.
What could have looked like a desperation trade instead resulted in a measured move where Minnesota came away with a potential top-five tight end in the league — without losing a single pick.
Yes, the Vikings gave up a second-round pick in next year’s draft and a 2024 third-round pick. However, the 2023 fourth-round pick and conditional 2024 fourth-rounder give general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah the same number of picks in upcoming drafts.
Draft capital is fluid, and if Adofo-Mensah proved anything in his first draft last April, he’s aggressive and active in moving up and down the draft board. Those picks give him the same liberty.