Insider Addresses Irv Smith Jr.’s Future After Vikings Sign Veteran TE

Irv Smith Jr.

Getty Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. is expected to miss 8-10 weeks with a high-ankle sprain.

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. is still getting back to form after not playing in an NFL regular-season game in nearly two years.

The 2019 second-round pick was the apparent heir to Kyle Rudolph‘s decade-long seat as the Vikings’ starting tight end. But after tearing his meniscus in the 2021 preseason, Smith has had a long road to claiming his starting spot (he also suffered a thumb injury in training camp that hampered him through the month of August).

Smith has had a rocky start to his comeback campaign. He dropped a wide-open pass that could have gone for a touchdown and changed the complexion of Minnesota’s Week 2 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The drop has remained at the forefront of many fans’ minds when thinking of Smith, who is playing on the final year of his rookie contract and could reach free agency in the offseason.

Before the start of the season, Smith said he has “no clue” of any contract talks with the new regime under first-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The recent signing of veteran tight end Jacob Hollister puts Smith’s future with the franchise into question as well.

Heavy Sports’ senior NFL reporter Matt Lombardo spoke with a league source who addressed the Hollister signing and what it means in Minnesota.

Source: Jacob Hollister Has a Chance to Be ‘Really Productive’ in the Vikings Offense

In a September 30 fan mailbag segment, Lombardo spotlighted the Vikings’ tight-end situation with Hollister entering the fold.

Hollister, 28, boasts 83 receptions for 707 yards and seven touchdowns in five seasons as a pro. That’s more than any member of the Vikings tight end group, including Smith, who hasn’t had as strong of a hold on his spot on the offense as expected.

However, Hollister won’t be contending for Smith’s spot atop the tight-end food chain any time soon, a source told Lombardo.

“I’m not sure Hollister is going to replace Smith,” a league source with knowledge of the Vikings’ thinking told Heavy, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely, per Lombardo. “But he definitely has the chance to get involved in and be really productive in that offense.”

Despite the speculation that first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell would deploy more three-wide receiver sets and make the tight end position less significant to the offense, the Vikings currently rank third with 27 passes targeting the tight end through three weeks.

“Viewed through the scope of adding a complementary tight end to Smith, who has caught all 7 of his career touchdowns inside the red zone, and Hollister certainly adds significant upside to the Vikings’ passing game and could prove a dramatic upgrade inside the 20-yard line,” Lombardo added.

Irv Smith Jr. Not the Most Active Tight End on Vikings Roster

It’s just three weeks into the season, however, the Vikings haven’t given Smith a stranglehold on snaps that fans would hope for from the fourth-year tight end.

Johnny Mundt, the only tight end under contract beyond the 2022 season, leads the tight-end room with 96 offensive snaps, followed by Smith (coming back from thumb surgery) with 90 offensive snaps and Ben Ellefson with 33 snaps.

Smith ran significantly more passing routes than any other tight end in Week 3, tallying 25 routes and six targets on  Kirk Cousins‘ 42 dropbacks in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions. Mundt ran just seven routes and saw two targets, while Ellefson ran three routes and saw two targets.

Hollister, who is currently on the practice squad, figures to make a case for a spot on the active roster after learning the playbook. His role should be primarily in the passing game — potentially carving into Smith’s opportunities in the future.

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