Irv Smith Jr. may have played his last regular-season game as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
The fourth-year tight end suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals and underwent an MRI on Monday. The results were not good.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Vikings, which placed Smith on the injured reserve list on Tuesday, November 1, “is expected to be out 8-10 weeks.”
Smith could make it back in time for the postseason, which the Vikings have a strong chance of making after starting the season 6-1.
However, where he’ll fit in the Vikings offense remains to be seen after the team acquired former first-round tight end T.J. Hockenson from the Detroit Lions in a trade on Tuesday.
Irv Smith Jr.’s Future With Vikings Unclear
The third tight end taken in the 2019 draft behind Hockenson and Noah Fant, Smith, selected in the second round, flashed promise after re-setting the franchise’s rookie-tight end receptions record with 36 receptions for 311 receiving yards.
He was deemed the heir to Kyle Rudolph‘s TE1 spot after Minnesota enjoyed a decade of dominance at the position. However, Smith has struggled to take significant steps forward since taking the reigns of the starting tight end spot.
Last season he was poised for a breakout year before he underwent season-ending meniscus surgery before the start fo the season. This summer, he suffered a broken thumb that required surgery. Smith made a speedy recovery and was active for the season opener, but this latest injury has set him back amid a contract year.
Smith has averaged 9.6 yards per reception and 23.4 yards per game in his career but has never had a single-game breakout performance — an “Irv Smith game.” Smith’s best showing came in 2020 against the Seattle Seahawks, when he tallied a career-high 64 receiving yards on four catches. He’s averaged 4.0 yards after the catch in his career.
Hockenson, on the other hand, has gone over that mark eight times in his career. He’s averaged 44.0 yards per game in his career and has taken over several games for the Lions — most recently an 8-catch, 179-yard and 2-touchdown performance against the Seahawks in Week 4.
Vikings Can’t Afford to Pay Irv Smith & T.J. Hockenson
There’s a chance Smith and Hockenson may make an appearance on the field together in the postseason, however, the two staying in Minnesota beyond the 2022 season is unlikely.
Hockenson’s cap hit from his fifth-year option is $9.4 million, per Over the Cap. Smith will reach free agency in the offseason and will likely test the market.
With Hockenson on the books at $9.4 million, the Vikings are unlikely to want to sink more money at the tight end position given the increase in three-wide receiver sets under Kevin O’Connell.
Smith could take a team-friendly deal to stay in Minnesota — something short term to prove he can stay healthy before testing free agency again — however, his workload will be dimished with Hockenson in the mix.
Minnesota is likely to offer Hockenson a contract extension, which could lighten his cap hit for the 2023 season, but the Vikings also have to consider making Justin Jefferson the league’s highest-paid receiver in the offseason as well.