Christian Darrisaw

Vikings Expect TE Irv Smith Jr. To Return During Regular Season

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 (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.

Vikings DT Dalvin Tomlinson To Return In Week 13

The Vikings will welcome back a key member of their defense when they take on the Jets tomorrow. Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson is set to return in Week 13, as noted (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.

The 28-year-old has been battling a calf injury, and has been sidelined since Week 9 as a result. He has made steady progress in recent days while practicing, though, which led to optimism that he would be available to suit up on Sunday against the Jets. His presence will be felt along the Minnesota’s defensive line.

Tomlinson has been a full-time starter in each of his two years with the Vikings, after he signed a $22MM deal in free agency last offseason. In 2022, the former Giants second-rounder has totaled 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Along the way, he has logged a career-high 64% snap share, demonstrating his importance to a Vikings d-line which parted ways with veteran Michael Pierce in the spring.

In other injury news, rookie cornerback Akayleb Evans has cleared concussion protocol, setting him up to play and start on Sunday as well. That will be a welcomed development, given the fourth-rounder’s added importance for the remainder of the campaign in the wake of Andrew Booth‘s season-ending knee injury. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said that Booth’s surgery consisted of repairing his meniscus, which will lengthen his recovery timeline (Twitter link via Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune). That will leave significant expectations for Evans for the foreseeable future, as he steps into a starting role on a secondary which is surrendering a league-worst average of 276 passing yards per game.

Left tackle Christian Darrisaw is still in the concussion protocol, per O’Connell. That will lead to a second consecutive missed game for the 2021 first-rounder; no timetable is in place for him to return to action at this point. Minnesota will likely turn to 2020 sixth-rounder Blake Brandel to make his second consecutive start this week, one in which the Vikings could clinch the NFC North title.

Vikings T Christian Darrisaw Suffers Concussion, Likely To Miss Next Week

In a thumping by the Cowboys today, the Vikings offensive line took a big hit. Second-year starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw was knocked out of the game with a concussion, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. With a Thursday night matchup against the Patriots incoming quickly just four days away, this would be an opportunity to see how seriously the NFL will take its new concussion protocols. Fortunately for Darrisaw, head coach Kevin O’Connell has no intentions of rushing the 23-year-old back onto the field, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. O’Connell told reporters that they intend to be cautious with Darrisaw and won’t play him on Thursday, giving him a full two weeks to come back.

Since being drafted 23rd overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Darrisaw has certainly played up to his draft stock. After missing the beginning of his rookie season with an injury, Darrisaw quickly came into the starting left tackle job and, aside from a two-week absence later on in his rookie year, he’s held down the spot ever since.

As one of the premier players on a Vikings team that has exceeded all expectations this season, O’Connell’s decision makes perfect sense. At 8-2, Minnesota is eons ahead of the second-place team in their division, the Lions (4-6). Even the usually mighty Packers are far behind at 4-7. This cushion makes it an easy decision for the head coach. No need to rush their young, star blindside blocker back in a short week and risk doing far more harmful damage to a player who could lead their offensive line for years to come.

If all works according to plan, Darrisaw will be able to return in time for the team’s Week 13 matchup against the Jets. In Darrisaw’s absence, the Vikings have a couple avenues they can explore. When he left the game today, Minnesota replaced Darrisaw with Blake Brandel. They can stay with that route and give Brandel the first start of his NFL career or they can start Olisaemeka Udoh, who has much more starting experience. The downside is, while Udoh does have experience at tackle, his starting experience was at right guard.

With rookie sixth-round pick Vederian Lowe and veteran Chris Reed dealing with injuries, as well, that only leaves Austin Schlottmann from today’s gameday roster as another available option. Schlottmann isn’t a great option, as he is fairly exclusively an interior lineman, so it looks like the job to replace Darrisaw next week will be between Udoh and Brandel.

Vikings Extend QB Kirk Cousins Through 2023

New Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell wanted a chance to build an offense around quarterback Kirk Cousins. Well, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, he will get his chance as the Vikings will sign Cousins to a one-year, $35MM extension that will keep him in Minnesota through the 2023 NFL season. 

The Vikings reportedly had been receiving calls on Cousins, but the new coaching staff and general manager are declaring their commitment to the veteran quarterback and gaining some much needed cap space in the process.

Cousins’ scheduled cap hit for 2022 was set to be the largest in NFL history at $45MM. The extension reduces his 2022 cap number to $31.42MM, granting Minnesota a little over $13.5MM in cap space. In addition, Cousins will see a raise, making $40MM this season and $30MM in 2023. The deal includes phantom, voidable years in 2024 & 2025 that allow them to reduce the cap hits in ’22 and ’23.

Say what you will about Cousins pay and performance, but after receiving two consecutive franchise tags in Washington, a three-year fully-guaranteed contract to join the Vikings, and two fully-guaranteed extensions to stay in Minnesota, Cousins has secured eight-straight seasons of guaranteed contracts.

There are expectations for Cousins to thrive under O’Connell. With offensive weapons like running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, wide receivers Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn, and tight end Irv Smith Jr. all returning, the familiarity of personnel should make up for the new playbook. The bookends of the offensive line seem set with Christian Darrisaw showing promise after a delayed debut and Brian O’Neill making the Pro Bowl last year. There are some questions to be answered on the interior of the line, but the pieces, for the most part, are there.

The onus will now be on the coaching staff and front office to make offseason improvements to a defense that struggled mightily last year. The Vikings defense allowed the third-most yards in the league and the ninth-most points. If the new leaders in Minnesota can turn around that unit, look for Minnesota to make a play for a playoff spot and potentially even challenge the perennial NFC North power from Green Bay for the division.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/8/22

Today’s updates for the reserve/COVID-19 and practice squad/COVID-19 lists:

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Detroit Lions

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Washington Football Team

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/3/22

Here are Monday’s activations from and placements on the reserve/COVID-19 lists:

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: OT Mike Remmers (remains on IR)

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: RB Raymond Calais (remains on IR)

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

North Notes: Darrisaw, Carpenter, McFarland

Let’s round up a few items from the league’s North divisions:

  • Vikings LT Christian Darrisaw, the No. 23 overall pick of this year’s draft, has undergone two procedures for a groin injury in 2021, which delayed the start to his pro career. But he saw his first snaps at the left tackle position in last week’s win over the Lions, and he will get the start there against the Panthers today, as Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. Rashod Hill had been trying to hold down the fort in Darrisaw’s absence, but he struggled, and today marks the true beginning of the Darrisaw era on the blindside.
  • The Ravens worked out free agent guard James Carpenter on Friday, as Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus tweets. Baltimore is on the lookout for OL depth after placing rookie guard Ben Cleveland on IR earlier this week. This marks the first reported interest in Carpenter since he was released by the Falcons in March.
  • Even though the Steelers drafted RB Najee Harris in the first round of this year’s draft, 2020 draftee Anthony McFarland hoped to have a meaningful role on offense. But as Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review details, McFarland sustained a torn MCL during the preseason and has been on IR ever since. He was designated for return last week, and Rutter says the Maryland product will most likely be back on the field after the Steelers’ Week 7 bye.

Vikings’ Everson Griffen Suffers Concussion In Car Accident, Out For Week 2

Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen sustained a concussion in a car accident this week and will not play in the team’s Week 2 game. The Vikings ruled out Griffen and linebacker Anthony Barr for Sunday’s Cardinals matchup.

Griffen’s accident occurred when he swerved to avoid a deer and crashed into a tree, according to the Minnetrista (Minn.) Public Safety Department (via KSTP). Griffen was on his way to the team’s facility. He is now in the Vikings’ concussion protocol. The recently re-signed pass rusher missed Minnesota’s past two practices.

The Vikings re-signed Griffen this summer, doing so after he spent the 2020 season with the Cowboys and Lions. Griffen, 33, played 41% of Minnesota’s defensive snaps in Week 1. Second-year D-end D.J. Wonnum started opposite Danielle Hunter in Cincinnati. Wonnum, Stephen Weatherly and rookie third-rounder Patrick Jones reside as the non-Hunter contingent of the Vikings’ defensive end corps.

Barr did not practice this week due to a knee injury that will keep him out for a second straight game. The eighth-year outside linebacker missed 14 games last season due to a pectoral muscle tear, and he has not played thus far this season. Barr, 29, agreed to a pay cut this offseason. He is now due for free agency in 2022.

The Vikings also ruled out first-round pick Christian Darrisaw for the second straight week. Although the rookie got in three limited practices, the Vikes are exercising caution here. The team’s would-be left tackle is working his way back from core-muscle surgery, his second of the year. Rashod Hill will continue to start at left tackle for the Vikings.

NFC North Notes: Rodgers, Darrisaw, Lions

Aaron Rodgers surfaced in an NFL news cycle or two this offseason, but the reigning MVP reported to Packers training camp on time. The 37-year-old quarterback did air some grievances about his situation, and he shed more light on his complicated offseason recently. As late as the weekend before camp, Rodgers evidently was quite close to retiring. A report early during his offseason quest to leave Green Bay indicated retirement was on the table. The 17th-year veteran confirmed as such.

I mean, I felt going into the weekend before camp that I was 50/50,” Rodgers said on retirement during an appearance on the Dan LeBatard and Friends podcast (via CBS Sports). “I don’t care if people don’t believe that. That’s true. There were some things that got me to 50/50 for sure, and you know I spent a couple of days in silence and meditation and contemplation and really felt like that I should come back. There’s a lot of opportunities for growth and exciting things in Green Bay and that felt like the right thing to do.”

While Rodgers and Packers management are still not on great terms, with the sides set to huddle up after the season to determine the QB’s future, he will play a 14th season as the team’s starting QB. Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • The Vikings continue to wait on first-round pick Christian Darrisaw. The rookie left tackle is on the mend from his second core muscle surgery this year, and Mike Zimmer indicated the team was surprised this operation became necessary. “They tell me one thing and it ends up being something else,” Zimmer said, via the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson (on Twitter). “It was taken care of in January. We didn’t expect this.” The eighth-year Minnesota HC did say he expected Darrisaw to be ready by Week 1, but the Virginia Tech product has not practiced fully during camp and may take time to move into the starting lineup. Veteran backup/spot starter Rashod Hill has worked as the Vikings’ top left tackle in Darrisaw’s absence.
  • A car accident changed the Lions‘ depth chart recently. Last week, Detroit waived cornerback Alex Brown. More details emerged on why soon after. Brown was hit with four charges for his role in the accident, according to the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers, who tweets the 24-year-old defender was allegedly intoxicated while driving on the wrong side of a highway around 2am Aug. 15. This crash left two injured, including Lions teammate Charlie Taumoepeau, per Rogers (via Twitter). A 23-year-old tight end, Taumoepeau suffered a neck injury that required hospitalization. The Lions cut Brown immediately; Taumoepeau reverted to Detroit’s injured reserve after being waived with an injury designation.
  • Third-year player Kabion Ento has completed a successful conversion from wide receiver to cornerback with the Packers, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Although the 6-foot-1, 187-pound defender has yet to play in a regular-season game, the Packers have been patient with the ex-Colorado wideout. They stashed Ento on their practice squad in 2019, kept him on IR in 2020 — after a foot fracture sidelined him — and retained him via reserve/futures deal. Ento only caught 20 career passes with the Buffaloes and is now vying to land one of the Packers’ backup cornerback jobs.

Christian Darrisaw Undergoes Core Surgery

The Vikings continue to be without their first-round pick and hopeful left tackle starter, and the wait will continue. Christian Darrisaw underwent his second core muscle surgery of the year Wednesday.

Darrisaw met with the same specialist who performed his initial 2021 surgery, per KSTP’s Darren Wolfson (on Twitter), and had what’s Tom Pelissero classifies as a minor procedure. The Vikings remain hopeful Darrisaw will be ready for Week 1 (Twitter link).

Those hopes may be a bit optimistic, with Darrisaw having yet to practice fully with the Vikings since being taken 23rd overall in April. The Virginia Tech product attempted to address this issue ahead of the draft, with a January surgery, but the problem has persisted. Although Darrisaw has participated somewhat in Minnesota’s training camp, Courtney Cronin of notes those reps have only come in walkthroughs with the second-team offense. While Darrisaw may well make it back early in the season, this nagging injury has deprived him of critical work ahead of his rookie year.

Minnesota has used veteran Rashod Hill as its first-string left tackle instead, with 2020 second-round pick Ezra Cleveland — a left tackle at Boise State — still at guard. Hill has been with the Vikings for five seasons, working as a spot starter. He has started just two games over the past two seasons. Hill re-signed with the Vikings this offseason.