Departed Viking Is Due for Big Payday in 2024

Once-Promising Viking Hits 'Lame Duck' Fate
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A couple of former Vikings have already signed their big deal. Patrick Peterson signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and will make $7 million per season, despite turning 33 in July. The Steelers think he has something left in the tank after an excellent 2022 season.

Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson also left the organization after two years. He will face Peterson twice per year with the Cleveland Browns. He signed a huge deal worth $57 million for four years of service. The average annual salary, $14.25 million, ranks him as the 10th highest-paid defensive tackle in the league. Minnesota didn’t match that for understandable reasons.

Departed Viking Is Due for Big Payday in 2024

Departed Viking Is Due For Big Payday in 2024
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Tight end Irv Smith Jr. left the building after four years. He was a surprising second-round selection in the 2019 draft, considering Kyle Rudolph was still on the team and showed no signs of slowing down. Even more surprisingly came the contract extension with Rudolph after the draft.

Smith was stuck in a committee for two years before the veteran was released for cap-saving purposes. The young tight end scored 7 touchdowns in his first two seasons combined and recorded 676 receiving yards. His breakout was supposed to happen in 2021. The offseason talkers on how he would feast without Rudolph and how great he looked in training camp meant nothing because he suffered a torn meniscus in the preseason and missed the whole campaign after he had to undergo surgery.

Fast forward one year, Smith Jr. first broke his thumb in training camp and wasn’t totally ready in Week 1, and later suffered a high ankle sprain and was placed on IR. The Vikings had to react to the injury news and traded for T.J. Hockenson right before the trade deadline. Since that moment, Hockenson has been the first tight end on the depth chart, and Smith Jr. was relegated to the backup role in the final season of his rookie contract.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) spikes the ball after a touchdown score as tight end Mark Andrews (89) looks on and Jacksonville Jaguars safety Andre Cisco (5) is slow to get up after an attempted stop during the fourth quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jaguars edged the Ravens 28-27. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

The free agent market wasn’t kind for the tight ends. Minnesota paid Josh Oliver $21 million for three seasons, but most tight ends ended up with cheap deals. The ex-Viking was available two weeks after the start of free agency. Many spots were already filled.

However, he found one and signed a one-year contract with the Bengals. The financial details are still unknown, but the deal was called a one-year prove-it deal, and Smith chose a fantastic spot to do just that.

His predecessors at the tight end position in Cincinnati, Hayden Hurst, and C.J. Uzomah, both got paid the big bucks after their tenure with the Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow.

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After posting career-high numbers of 493 yards and 5 touchdowns at 28 in 2021, his seventh season with the Bengals, Uzomah left in free agency and signed a big deal with the Jets. The tight end received a $24 million contract for three seasons, including $15 million fully guaranteed.

Similar things happened to Hurst, a former first-round pick of the Ravens, where he spent two seasons, followed by two campaigns in Atlanta. He joined the Bengals at age 29 for his fifth career season on a one-year prove-it deal, possibly similar to Smith’s contract. Hurst made roughly $3.5 million in that season. Only 13 games, 414 yards, and 2 touchdowns later, Hurst signed a three-year contract with the Panthers worth $21,750,000, $13 million guaranteed.

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Smith has never topped 400 receiving yards in a season, but that should be achievable in Cincinnati’s high-flying offense with brilliant QB Joe Burrow. The former Vikings tight end is still only 24 years old and has a lot of untapped potential. It just never worked out in Minnesota. It’s feasible that he’ll sign a big deal next March, similar to Hurst and Uzomah.

A lot of attention in the Bengals’ offense will be on star wideouts Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. The team also employs Tyler Boyd, possibly the best third option in the league. Smith should be able to earn a nice role with only Devin Asiasi, Tanner Hudson, and Nick Bowers as his competition for the tight end snaps.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt