The Vikings Will Have One Particular and Major Free Agent Decision in 2023

The Vikings Will Have One Particular and Major Free Agent Decision in 2023
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

In 2023, the Minnesota Vikings will have free-agent decisions to ponder on Alexander Mattison, Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Armon Watts, among others. But those notable names are “normal” during a free-agent period.

General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must weigh a particular and major decision this season and into next offseason — and that involves the retention of tight end Irv Smith Jr.

Obligatory and Annual Irv Smith Jr. Breakout Article
Sep 22, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Smith Jr. enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2022, and when one watches his performance on the field, it seems like a no-brainer to re-up for his services. However, Smith Jr. missed all of 2021 due to a torn meniscus, disqualifying the Vikings from monitoring his progression.

He was drafted from Alabama in 2019, and around this time every year, pundits and fans forecast a breakout season for the 23-year-old. Yet, at some point — probably in 2022 — he must actually effectuate that prognosis. Before his injury, Smith Jr. shared targets from Kirk Cousins with long-time Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph. Smith was ready to ascend for the TE1 job in 2021 when Rudolph departed for the New York Giants, but the meniscus stifled the plan.

The best tight ends in the NFL — a classification that adheres with the upside for Smith Jr. — usually command about 110-150 targets in a single season. To date in his career, the most Smith Jr. has been afforded in a season is 47 targets. And that was his rookie season.

Forty-seven to 150 is quite the variance. Smith Jr. should grow closer to the 75-100 mark this season with head coach Kevin O’Connell in charge, but he still must split attention between Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, and Dalvin Cook (who may play some WR).

The best TEs in the sport earn about $10-$15 million per season. So, if Smith Jr. maximizes his freakish WR-like ability in the Vikings 2022 offense, he can expect a payday in the vicinity.

Nov 3, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports.

But these items arise:

  1. Will he play well enough to deserve Year Five in Minnesota?
  2. Will Adofo-Mensah splurge on an expensive tight end, if so?

Those are the questions to contemplate as the Vikings embark on the 2022 season. Smith Jr. is essentially a wide receiver in a TE body, meaning his wherewithal to explode in O’Connell’s offense feels feasible.

For now, the Vikings rank 20th in the NFL for 2023 project cap space. A lot will change between May of 2022 and 2023 free agency. Yet, the takeaway is that Minnesota won’t be playing around with gobs of spending money like teams such as the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks are forecasted to hold.

Regardless. “to re-sign or not to re-sign” Smith Jr. is coming to a digital forum near you in eight months. He’ll headline all Vikings-related free-agent discussions.

Smith Jr. has totaled 676 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 29 career games.

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 Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).