3 Vikings from the Past Who Could Realistically Return in Purple

Chiefs Roster
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings have six weeks of the offseason in the rearview after failing to qualify for the postseason in 2023. A season-ending injury to Kirk Cousins ended all lofty hopes for head coach Kevin O’Connell’s second act.

The club has several offseason decisions afoot, with free agency four weeks away.

3 Vikings from the Past Who Could Realistically Return in Purple

And during roster construction, there’s a small chance a former Viking or two will rejoin the roster. Minnesota has about $25 million in cap space as of February 18th.

Confirms Popular Draft
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

If the Vikings do fire up any reunion contracts, these are three high-profile players most likely to return. They’re ranked in ascending order of likelihood (No. 1 = most likely to return).

3. Za’Darius Smith
OLB, Cleveland Browns

2 Vikings EDGE
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings didn’t necessarily end on great terms with Za’Darius Smith after the 2022 campaign. The pass rusher asked to be released last March, and Minnesota traded him two months later. He played quite well in Cleveland, firing up “one of those seasons” where sacks weren’t plentiful, but quarterback pressures still flooded onto the statsheet.

Minnesota needs outside linebackers this offseason, and if the Vikings can mend fences with Smith and his representation, it may not be a bad idea to welcome him back on a short-team deal.

2. Irv Smith Jr.
TE, Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Irv Smith Jr. (81) walks between plays during a training camp practice at the Paycor Stadium practice field in downtown Cincinnati on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Irv Smith Jr. produced an unbelievably quiet year in Cincinnati, registering just 18 receptions for 115 yards. Those numbers don’t scream reunion for the Vikings’ appetite.

However, welcoming Smith Jr. back on an affordable deal would plop him on the depth chart as TE2 or TE3. TE1 T.J. Hockenson probably won’t be ready for Week 1 — he might even hit the Physically Unable to Perform List in September — so Smith Jr. could be a depth piece.

He already knows the Vikings’ offense, and the Vikings’ offense knows him.

1. Ezra Cleveland
LG, Jacksonville Jaguars

Vikings from the Past
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah traded Cleveland to the Jaguars last October because Dalton Risner was itching to start. Now, Cleveland is a free agent, and Risner may not return in 2024. Yes — that means Cleveland could simply re-sign in Minnesota while the Vikings keep the 6th-Round pick it gained for sending Cleveland to Jacksonville.

Few complained about Cleveland as the Vikings’ starting left guard; it’s just that Risner was a better pass-protecting lineman, which the Vikings have needed for years.

A Cleveland reunion in Minnesota wouldn’t be weird one iota.


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 Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.

Share: