Bucs Urged to Sign ‘Intriguing’ Former Top-50 Pick From Vikings

Irv Smith

Getty Irv Smith could give the Bucs a quality veteran at tight end.

Unless the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have complete confidence that second-year tight end Cade Otton will make a huge splash in 2023, it behooves the team to find a veteran tight end.

Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay called Irv Smith Jr. “one of the more intriguing free agents remaining on the open market” this year. Smith, 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, played the past four seasons for the Minnesota Vikings and tallied 91 catches for 858 yards and nine touchdowns in just 37 games played.

“He’s hardly had a chance to showcase his talents since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2019, but he could finally get a shot to show out in 2023,” Kay wrote. “His career with the Minnesota Vikings was marred by injuries and a logjam at the tight end position, factors that have severely limited the amount of action he’s seen.”

In Tampa Bay, Smith could complement Otton, who shared the workload with former Bucs tight end Cameron Brate last season. The Bucs’ tandem couldn’t replace the void left by retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Otton only tallied 42 receptions for 391 yards and two touchdowns, and most of that came in the second half of the season. The Bucs also have second-year tight end Ko Kieft, who played more of a blocking role but showed flashes in the passing game with seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Irv Smith Jr. Shared Workload in Minnesota

Smith is accustomed to sharing the workload in Minnesota, which had Kyle Rudolph during his first two years followed by T.J. Hockenson in 2022. Rudolph notably spent the 2022 season with the Bucs amid minimal production before he walked in free agency.

“Smith started his career as the No. 2 tight end behind Kyle Rudolph, but the Alabama product still managed to snag 36 receptions for 311 yards and a pair of scores as a rookie,” Kay wrote. “Rudolph was still in the picture the following year—a major reason why Smith saw less than two-thirds of the offensive snaps — but Smith displayed growth on the way to 30 receptions for 365 yards and five touchdowns.”

“Finally out of Rudolph’s shadow and set to take over the TE1 role for the Vikings in 2021, Smith suffered an unfortunate meniscus tear in the preseason finale that cost him the entire season,” Kay added. “He returned this season, but he seemed to be limited by the injury still and caught just 25 balls for 182 yards and two touchdowns in eight games before landing on injured reserve again with an ankle issue.”

The Vikings traded for Hockenson at mid-season in 2022, and he became the undisputed top tight end for the team. Smith could see a larger role with a new team such as the Bucs, a team that lacks a veteran tight end with Brate gone and Rudolph walking in free agency.

Bucs Could Afford to Take Risk on Irv Smith Jr.

Smith wouldn’t cost too much because of his injury history and unknowns with his ceiling as a pro. Pro Football Focus projects him at $4.25 million per year for two years.

The Bucs could find a way to afford that despite being $733,898 over the salary cap per Spotrac. Cutting a kicker Ryan Succop and a couple of the potential practice squad tight ends could get the Bucs far enough under the cap to attain Smith’s asking price. Since the Bucs’ tight ends mustered only 72 receptions for 673 yards and four touchdowns, signing Smith could be worth the risk.

“Smith gets an ‘incomplete’ mark for his work in Minnesota, but he could change his story by staying healthy and landing with a squad that could use a hyper-athletic pass-catching tight end,” Kay wrote. “The 24-year-old still has plenty of upside and has only scratched the surface of what he can bring to the table.”

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