Bittersweet Events Round Out Vikings Final Week of Preseason

Irv Smith Jr.
Sep 22, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) looks on against the Oakland Raiders at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In chronological order on Sunday, news hit that tight end Irv Smith Jr. is injured indefinitely while safety Harrison Smith signed a contract extension that will likely keep the veteran with the Minnesota Vikings for the duration of his career.

Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network led with the Irv Smith Jr. news, which significantly alters the Vikings offense to start the season.

Per the opinion of fantasy football experts, Vikings fans, Minnesota’s coaching staff, national pundits, and your grandmother — Smith Jr. was forecasted to breakout in 2021 after long-time tight end Kyle Rudolph departed for the New York Giants.

Now, the Vikings pump the brakes as Smith Jr. undergoes surgery to repair his meniscus. Should the procedure entail something minor, he’ll will be shelved for less than a month. The alternative, however, is grimmer.

And that means that Tyler Conklin, a 26-year-old TE2 from Central Michigan, gets the nod at TE1 barring any trades or splashy free-agent signings by the Vikings. Tyler Eifert is a battle-tested, 30-year-old free agent. Zach Ertz with the Philadelphia Eagles has long wanted out of Philadelphia, so that would be a possibility to explore if Smith Jr. is lost for all of 2021.

Otherwise, it’s The Conklin Show — at least for a while — in Minnesota. He emerged late in the season last year when Kyle Rudolph was hurt. Particularly, Conklin authored memorable games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears, chiefly because folks didn’t know he “had it in him.” He’ll now get his chance to replicate that mini-version of success.

Contrarily, the good news for Minnesota  — regarding the other Smith — followed mere minutes after the Smith Jr. bombshell.

This agreement was in the making for most of the offseason. The Vikings kept their cap room flexible, presumably preparing for the extensions of Smith and right tackle Brian O’Neill. Well, Smith was the first of the two to solidify an extended Minnesota stay.

At age 32, Smith enters the last portion of his career now an even richer man. He joined the Vikings in 2012 out of the 1st Round from Notre Dame and has dazzled ever since.

Smith does it all — he covers receivers, tackles, blitzes, leads, and hits hard. Sunday’s deal ensures Smith will forever cement his Vikings legacy, a reputation well intact even if he retired tonight. The only thing separating Smith from the Hall of Fame — so far — is a Super Bowl championship. Why? Because his statistics parallel those of Troy Polamalu, who was just welcomed to the Hall of Fame.

The paradoxical news of the day involving The Smiths — one player bows out for a while; another is granted a prolonged invitation to terrorize — comes two days before Minnesota must trim its 2021 roster to 53 men.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday along with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).