The Vikings expect to have TE Irv Smith Jr. back on the field before the end of the regular season, as head coach Kevin O’Connell recently told reporters, including Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Smith suffered an ankle injury in Minnesota’s Week 8 victory over the Cardinals and was placed on injured reserve shortly thereafter.
The injury to Smith prompted the Vikes to swing an intra-divisional trade for former Lions TE T.J. Hockenson. Since the trade, Hockenson is averaging six catches and 45 yards per game as part of an offense that also includes wideouts Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Smith, who missed all of the 2021 season due to a meniscus tear, would represent an intriguing, high-upside complement to that group of pass-catchers. The team ranks in the top-10 in both passing yards per game and points per game, and adding Smith back into the mix could make its aerial attack even more formidable.
A 2019 second-round draft choice, Smith will be eligible for free agency at season’s end. Obviously, this year’s ankle injury coupled with his 2021 absence have not allowed him to generate much momentum towards a lucrative, multi-year pact, so he will likely be looking at one-year offers this offseason. Minnesota could be interested in a reunion, as Hockenson’s fifth-year option salary and cap charge of $9.4MM is manageable — his cap number could be further reduced with an extension — and there are no other particularly appealing tight ends on the roster.
In related news, the Vikings are without left tackle Christian Darrisaw for the third consecutive game on Sunday. However, Darrisaw has reportedly cleared the concussion protocol and should therefore have a good chance to suit up for the team’s Week 15 matchup with the Colts (Twitter link via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press). Safety Harrison Smith, meanwhile, will miss Sunday’s game against the Lions as well due to a neck injury.
The 10-2 Vikings have a five-game advantage in the NFC North and are just one game back of the 11-1 Eagles for the top seed in the NFC (though Philadelphia enjoys the tiebreaker by virtue of its Week 2 victory over Minnesota). Their divisional cushion is allowing them to be cautious with some of their top players.