Promising Ex-Viking Signed a Bargain Contract

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Some meaningful contributors of recent Vikings teams left the organization in free agency. Adam Thielen joined the Panthers and will most likely receive passes from the next first-overall pick, while Eric Kendricks signed with the Chargers.

Dalvin Tomlinson signed a huge deal with the Browns, while Patrick Peterson will play in the same division but for the Steelers. Many fans were disappointed when Duke Shelley wasn’t retained. He will face the Vikings in the upcoming season with the Raiders. Most of the mentioned players signed for a lot of money somewhere, and it made sense financially to let them leave the franchise, but one player should’ve been retained, considering the contract he agreed to.

Promising Ex-Viking Signed a Bargain Contract

Promising Ex-Viking Signed a Bargain Contract
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The Vikings picked a tight end in the 2019 draft, a surprising move for many, especially because Kyle Rudolph was still playing at a high level and showed no signs of slowing down. Irv Smith Jr., Tua Tagovailoa’s tight end at Alabama, joined the purple team after his selection with the 50th overall pick.

Rudolph’s following extension was more surprising than the pick, which meant that Smith was stuck in a committee, the nightmare of fantasy football fans and young, promising rookies.

Smith possesses exciting athleticism, something that Rudolph clearly lacked late in his career, but it never translated into a big success story in Minnesota. In the first two seasons, Smith recorded 311 and 365 receiving yards and a total of 7 touchdowns.

Rudolph was released following the 2020 season, and Smith was supposed to have a breakout campaign in 2021. Unfortunately for him and the Vikings, the young tight end suffered a torn meniscus and missed the full season, while his backup Tyler Conklin, had a wonderful campaign and earned himself a big payday with the Jets.

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After the arrival of Kevin O’Connell, who was supposed to install a pass-heavy offense, which he did, Smith was once again categorized as the Vikings’ top breakout candidate, but injuries messed with him once again. A broken thumb in training camp and later a sprained ankle slowed him down, and he missed significant time.

The Vikings had to add someone while he was recovering and shockingly traded for T.J. Hockenson, one of the top tight ends in the game. He immediately became the number one TE in Minnesota.

Smith registered only 182 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in 2022 before entering free agency, and the interest in him was apparently limited, as he was still available a couple of weeks after the window opened. The Vikings replaced him with former Ravens tight end Josh Oliver who received a decent contract, $21 million for three seasons.

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Smith reportedly had to settle for a one-year prove-it deal in Cincinnati and a salary of only $1.75 million. An interesting question now is if the Vikings had any interest in re-signing their 2019 pick or if he walked out of the building for close to nothing because the team didn’t even offer to retain him for a couple of million dollars.

The former Alabama playmaker is in a great position in the Bengals’ offense. His predecessors, C.J. Uzomah and Hayden Hurst, signed huge deals in free agency after a decent season with Joe Burrow. Their numbers looked like Smith’s in 2020, so he can earn a similar paycheck in the next offseason, but health will be an essential factor. He only played an entire season once, in his rookie season in 2019, and never more than 612 snaps.

The Vikings currently have five tight ends on the roster: T.J. Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson, and Nick Muse. It’s one of the top position groups on the Vikings roster.

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