Once-Promising Viking Hits ‘Lame Duck’ Fate

Once-Promising Viking Hits 'Lame Duck' Fate
Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) reacts with tight end Irv Smith Jr. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings received a jolt at tight end this week, engineering a deal for T.J. Hockenson with the Detroit Lions.

And because Hockenson is only 25 years old, his addition to the Vikings depth chart spells a ‘lame duck’ fate for incumbent TE1 Irv Smith.

The Vikings received Hockenson, a 2023 4th-Round pick, and a conditional 2024 4th-Round pick for a 2nd-Round pick from 2023 and 2024 3rd-Round pick to Detroit. Minnesota traded down two rounds next year and one round in 2024 to land Hockenson.

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Oct 16, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) embraces Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

The catalyst for the trade? An injury to Smith. Nearing the end of the Vikings Week 8 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals, Smith suffered a high ankle sprain that will sideline the Alabama alumnus for 6 to 10 games — which may be the remainder of the regular season.

Smith missed all of 2021 due to a torn meniscus.

Because this brand of Vikings — flossing a fancy 6-1 record, the franchise’s best start to a season since 2009 — is serious about Super Bowl contendership, waiting around until next year for Smith evidently wasn’t an option. Before and after the trade, the world considered Hockenson a better tight end than Smith, and that opinion naturally slides Smith to the backseat.

Irv Smith Jr.
Irv Smith Jr.

Moreover, 2022 is the final year of Smith’s rookie contract. He needed a healthy, productive campaign. Neither is occurring. Plus, one can’t help but wonder how much this play changed the course of Smith’s career:

While this drop may not have won the game for the Vikings in Week 2, it would’ve served as haymaker back at Philadelphia in a game that later spiraled into a horror film.

The Vikings paid a price for Hockenson to suggest his next contract would involve purple ink. Trading draft capital for the rental version of Hockenson seems nonsensical. That essentially ixnays Smith from the Vikings offseason plans unless his pricetag is incredibly affordable. Smith will hope to maximize his earning power in March while Hockenson remains under the Vikings control until the spring of 2024. These teams could have interest in Smith four months from now and pay him a sum he desires:

  • Buffalo Bills
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • New Orleans Saints

If the Vikings make the playoffs — it feels like a safe bet right now — that will be the last hurrah for Smith in Minnesota, assuming he recovers by then.

The Hockenson trade fundamentally changed the Vikings short and long-term TE future.

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