Irv Smith Jr.

Injury Updates: Cowboys, Vikings, Steelers, Seahawks

Ezekiel Elliott is expected back this weekend. After the star running back missed Week 8, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he expects Elliott to be back on the field against the Packers on Sunday, per Jon Machota of The Athletic (on Twitter). Meanwhile, Elliott himself told Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that his knee is getting better and the swelling has decreased (Twitter link). If the RB does return this weekend, he acknowledged that he’ll wear a knee brace.

Elliott has started each of his seven appearances this season. While his 63.3 rushing yards per game is about on-par with his recent performance, his yards-per-touch is currently a career-low mark (4.1). Backup Tony Pollard showed up when he earned an opportunity to start prior to the bye, finishing with 131 rushing yards on 14 carries. Despite the numbers, Jones made it clear that he’s sticking with Elliott atop the depth chart.

“There’s no argument,” Jones recently said of replacing Elliott as the starting RB. “Zeke’s ability to punish, Zeke’s ability to deliver, Zeke’s ability, what he does for us in pass protection, and, frankly, Zeke’s ability to make big plays are there, and we’re going to go as Zeke goes. I really mean he’s that integral to our success this year.”

Some more injury notes from around the NFL…

  • Meanwhile, Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith is about two or three weeks away from returning to practice, Stephen Jones recently said (via Calvin Watkins of the Dallas News on Twitter). If Smith requires his entire three-week window to get back into game shape, then the lineman could be eyeing a late-December return. The veteran offensive lineman suffered a hamstring injury during training camp that’s sidelined him for the first chunk of the season.
  • While Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. landed on injured reserve earlier this month thanks to an ankle issue, the injury likely won’t require surgery, coach Kevin O’Connell said (via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Twitter). Smith Jr. hasn’t started a game yet this season but has put up his standard numbers, hauling in 22 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns through seven games.
  • Damontae Kazee is expected to be activated off IR this week, and the Steelers safety provided some information on the injury that’s knocked him out for the first few months of the season. In addition to breaking his whole forearm, Kazee also suffered a dislocated wrist that “popped back into place during surgery,” per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor on Twitter. When he next takes the field, he’ll be armed with a padded brace to protect his arm. Kazee joined the Steelers this past offseason after starting 15 games for the Cowboys in 2021. Coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged how much veterans like Kazee and trade-deadline acquisition William Jackson III will help the defense. “Anytime you get veteran presences, it is an asset to you,” Tomlin said (via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic). “Been-there, done-that guys, and those guys are that.”
  • Seahawks linebacker/special teams ace Cullen Gillaspia injured his knee on Sunday and will need surgery, according to ESPN’s Brady Henderson (on Twitter). Fortunately, the injury isn’t as bad as initially feared, but Gillaspia is still expected to be sidelined for some time. The former seventh-round pick joined the Seahawks practice squad back in September, but he’s since appeared in six games while playing the majority of Seattle’s special teams snaps.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/1/22

A handful of minor moves on a busy deadline day:

Buffalo Bills

Chicago Bears

Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs

Minnesota Vikings

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Free Agency

Lions Trade TE T.J. Hockenson To Vikings

An intra-NFC North trade is going down. The Lions are sending tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter).

Acquired before the current Detroit regime arrived, Hockenson is under contract through 2023. Four picks are being exchanged in this deal. The Vikings are sending their division rivals a 2023 second-round pick and a 2023 third-rounder, Schefter tweets. The Vikings will receive Hockenson, a 2023 fourth-rounder and a conditional 2024 fourth. The Vikings announced the trade.

The Vikings are making this move in part because their current top tight end — Irv Smith Jr. — is set to miss time with a high ankle sprain. Hockenson, whom the Lions chose eighth overall in the 2019 draft, will be a higher-profile piece in the Vikings’ offense. At 6-1, the Vikings are dealing into their future asset war chest to add a key playmaker for Kirk Cousins. Smith is expected to be sidelined at least eight weeks, Schefter tweets, helping to explain the big price the Vikings will pay for an upgrade.

This trade comes months after the Vikings traded their No. 12 overall pick to the Lions, who moved up 20 spots to draft Jameson Williams. The Vikes have not shied away from intra-division moves under rookie GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Following the trade-down maneuver with the Lions, Adofo-Mensah traded back with the Packers in the second round, giving Green Bay the Christian Watson draft slot (No. 34 overall).

The Lions now have acquired future assets to help their rebuild. They now own two first-rounders and two seconds in the 2023 draft. Hockenson, 25, represented the final pass-catching piece from the Bob Quinn regime. The Lions had been linked to a possible Hockenson extension; instead, the Brad Holmes regime will start over at tight end.

Although various injuries have cropped up for Hockenson during his four-year Motor City run, he has not missed more than five games in a season. The Iowa product has a 700-plus-yard season on his resume (2020, his Pro Bowl campaign) and hauled in 61 passes for 583 yards and four touchdowns last season — a 12-game slate. This year, Hockenson has 26 receptions for 395 yards and three TDs. The 15.2-yard average, albeit in just seven games, represents by far a career-high mark for the 6-foot-5 pass catcher. Hockenson is tied to a $965K base salary and will be tethered to a fully guaranteed $9.39MM fifth-year option price in 2023.

Minnesota’s passing attack has featured steady Nos. 1 and 2 options for many years, with Justin Jefferson taking over for Stefon Diggs alongside Adam Thielen. The Vikings deployed Kyle Rudolph as their top tight end through the 2020 season and have seen some contributions from Smith. But the former second-rounder out of Alabama missed all of 2021 due to injury and is averaging just 7.6 yards per catch (22 receptions, 168 yards, two TDs) this season. Smith, who caught five touchdown passes in 2020, will move toward the fringes of Minnesota’s aerial hierarchy when he returns from injury. The second-generation NFLer is in a contract year.

At 6-1, the Vikings hold the NFC’s second-best record. They are 3.5 games up in the NFC North and have the tiebreaker over the Packers, who have won this division three years running. With the Packers scuffling and the Lions and Bears rebuilding, the red carpet is laid out for the Vikings to book their first home playoff game in five years. The franchise’s first-year regime parting with two Day 2 assets certainly signals it recognizes the opportunity here.

Injury Updates: Eichenberg, Smith, Parker, Moore, Bellinger

Dolphins guard Liam Eichenberg was carted off the field in this Sunday’s trip to Detroit. The injury isn’t as serious as initially feared, but it appears Eichenberg has suffered an MCL injury and will miss some time, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Miami will have options to replace Eichenberg. Michael Deiter started eight games at center last year for the Dolphins and 15 games at Eichenberg’s left guard position in 2019. Brandon Shell and Greg Little are also options with plenty of starting experience, albeit at tackle. Robert Jones is also an option after starting a game last year.

Here are a few other injury updates from around the NFL:

  • The Vikings are expected to be down another tight end after Irv Smith suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. With Ben Ellefson on injured reserve, Minnesota will have to rely on veteran Johnny Mundt who came over from Los Angeles in the offseason. Mundt has had limited targets this year with Minnesota’s litany of talented pass catchers, but his 12 receptions are already more than he had during his five years with the Rams. The Vikings will also likely explore the option of signing one of its two practice squad tight ends, Jacob Hollister and Nick Muse.
  • After suffering a knee sprain on the first play of the Patriots’ win over the Jets this weekend, wide receiver DeVante Parker is not expected to miss extended time, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Rapoport reports that if he does miss time, it should only be one game, especially since New England has a bye after next Sunday’s contest against the Colts. He should definitely be back in time for a rematch with the Jets in Week 11.
  • Colts cornerback Kenny Moore suffered a right hand sprain in practice last week, according to James Boyd of The Athletic. As Boyd inquired about the injury, Moore revealed that he has also been playing with a torn ligament in his left hand since the start of the season. Neither injury is expected to hold Moore out of any games, but this interview offered a glimpse into what Moore has been playing through this year.
  • After a gruesome freak accident that saw Jaguars rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd strike Giants tight end Daniel Bellinger directly in the eye on a whiffed attempt to punch the ball out, Bellinger reportedly “underwent successful surgery to correct fractures on (the) lower window of (his) eye socket and damage to (his) septum,” according to Fowler. Bellinger hopes to return in two to six weeks, but other sources indicate that four to six weeks is a much more reasonable timeline.

NFC North Notes: Bears, OL, Vikings, Barrett

Mentioned in trade rumors to start the week, Teven Jenkins has not practiced with the Bears since Day 1 of training camp. Due to the unknown ailment he is currently battling and last year’s back injury, Jenkins has participated in just one training camp practice since being chosen in the 2021 second round. He does not look to be factoring into Chicago’s first-string tackle mix. Recently signed veteran Riley Reiff does, and Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune expects the 11th-year blocker to be the team’s left tackle starter. Reiff spent most of his career as an NFC North left tackle but played on the right side for the Bengals last season. Larry Borom, Chicago’s primary right tackle during his 2021 rookie season, should be considered the favorite to stay in that role, Biggs adds. The Bears ditched their five-year tackle setup last summer, cutting Bobby Massie before the ’21 draft and releasing Charles Leno after selecting Jenkins. Leno has since signed a three-year, $37.5MM extension with the Commanders.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • Irv Smith Jr. worked his way back from the knee injury that wiped out his 2021 season, but the third-year Vikings tight end has run into more trouble. Smith underwent thumb surgery, Kevin O’Connell said. While the first-year Minnesota HC added Smith should be back by Week 1, he will miss the preseason. Having let Tyler Conklin hit the market and defect the Jets, the Vikings are counting on Smith to be their starter this season.
  • Jesse Davis has worked as the Vikings’ first-string right guard to start training camp, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes. The Vikings used fellow free agent signing Chris Reed as the primary first-stringer here during a recent Davis day off. Minnesota is also incorporating second-round pick Ed Ingram into this competition, per O’Connell. Davis, who shuttled between guard and tackle with the Dolphins for years, signed for one year and $3MM. Reed, a recent Colts backup, signed a two-year, $4.5MM pact. Reed has also worked at center in his initial months with the Vikes.
  • The Packers promoted Jon-Eric Sullivan recently. The veteran executive is now serving as the team’s VP of of player personnel. A Packers staffer since 2004, Sullivan has worked his way up from the regional scouting ranks. When Brian Gutekunst was hired as GM in 2018, Sullivan became the team’s co-player personnel director alongside John Wojciechowski. Green Bay also promoted Chris Gaines and Sean Linton to college scouts.
  • J.T. Barrett is breaking into the coaching ranks. The former Ohio State quarterback is now on the Lions‘ staff as an offensive assistant. Barrett, 27, caught on with the Saints, Seahawks and Steelers as an NFLer but never saw regular-season time. He also spent time with the CFL’s Edmonton Elks.

Latest On Vikings TE Irv Smith Jr.

Irv Smith Jr. was the source of much optimism entering last season, but the Vikings lost him due to injury. Now, there is renewed hope that he will be able to not only return to full health, but also assume a large role in the team’s offense. 

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert reports that the team is eyeing training camp as the point at which Smith resumes full training. He has already conducted some on-field work, albeit not at full speed, as he rehabs the knee injury he suffered during the Vikings’ final preseason game last year.

That cast serious doubt on his availability during at least the latter part of the campaign. Then, days later, it was reported that the required meniscus surgery would keep him sidelined for the season. The news dealt a significant blow to the 23-year-old’s personal development, as well as the team’s passing game. In his absence, Minnesota leaned on Tyler Conklin as their No. 1 tight end.

Conklin signed with the Jets in free agency, though, leaving a vacancy at the top of the depth chart. As Seifert notes, the team’s lack of major action in replacing Conklin (both in free agency and the draft) points to their confidence that Smith can fully rebound and take on the starter’s workload he was in line for one year ago.

“For Irv, this whole spring is a great example of a player figuring out where he is coming off his injury” head coach Kevin O’Connell said recently. He added, “some of the success he’s had – both with how we’re going to use him and ultimately where he is at in his career – he’s ready to absorb all of this and be in a position to… play with a bunch of confidence that he’s going to be a major part of what we do”.

Seifert notes that quarterback Kirk Cousins has a long history of heavily targeting tight ends, including some of the campaigns when he and O’Connell worked together in Washington. While Smith will have to compete with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen in terms of other high-profile pass-catchers, and the presence of Dalvin Cook will lead to a consistent commitment to the run game, the Alabama product should be able to take a step forward in 2022, as long as he recovers in full along the team’s stated schedule.

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.

Vikings’ Irv Smith Jr. Done For Year?

Bad news for the Vikings. Irv Smith‘s knee injury will likely shelve him for the entire season, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). 

Smith is looking at a 4-5 month timetable for recovery. Even in a best case scenario, that would effectively rule the tight end out for the regular season. A postseason return remains possible, in theory, but that’s a long way away. For now, Smith will have to focus on rehab while the Vikings plan to be without him for 2021.

Smith, 23, flashed serious potential last year while posting 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns. The football world (and fantasy world) was awaiting a breakout year for Smith, who would have benefitted from all the attention paid to Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and the rest of Kirk Cousins‘ weapons.

Instead, the Vikings will lean more on Tyler Conklin, who is dealing with a hamstring injury. Brandon Dillon stands as the only other tight end on the roster after rookie Zach Davidson and Shane Zylstra were waived on Tuesday. It stands to reason that one of those two players will be re-signed to the 53-man roster once Smith is placed on injured reserve. Alternatively, the Vikings could scour the waiver wire for an out-of-house alternative.

Vikings’ Irv Smith To Miss Time

Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. is scheduled for meniscus surgery (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). The tear, operation, and recovery will sideline him for the start of the season, at minimum. 

[RELATED: Vikings, Harrison Smith Agree To $64MM Deal]

Smith, 23, flashed serious potential last year while posting 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns. The football world (and fantasy world) was awaiting a breakout year for Smith, who would have benefitted from all the attention paid to Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and the rest of Kirk Cousins‘ weapons.

Of course, all is not lost, because meniscus surgery isn’t necessary a season ender. However, it seems likely that the Vikings will be without the dynamic TE through the first six weeks of the season.

While Smith is sidelined, they’ll be counting on backup Tyler Conklin — provided that Conklin’s hamstring doesn’t keep him off the field too. Brandon Dillon, rookie Zach Davidson, and Shane Zylstra comprise the rest of the Vikes’ TE depth chart.

 

Vikings Eyeing TE MyCole Pruitt

The Vikings have lost a couple of tight ends this offseason, so they’re naturally looking toward free agency for reinforcement. Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports (via Twitter) that Minnesota has “sent out some feelers” on free agent tight end MyCole Pruitt. Tomasson notes that “nothing is close” when it comes to a potential signing.

Pruitt actually started his career with the Vikings back in 2015, with the former fifth-rounder spending one-plus seasons with the organization. After bouncing around the league a bit, the tight end found a home in Tennessee in 2018. While Pruitt never put up big numbers during his stint with the Titans (20 receptions for 241 yards and one score), he had a consistent role as a blocking tight end, appearing in 42 games (15 starts) in three years. Pruitt also saw time in five playoff games for Tennessee, hauling in six receptions.

The Vikings have likely been looking for extra depth at tight end since moving on from Kyle Rudolph earlier this offseason. The team also watched as backup Hale Hentges called it a career. The team’s depth chart is currently led by former second-rounder Irv Smith Jr. and former fifth-round pick Tyler Conklin.

While the team’s interest in Pruitt makes sense from a depth perspective, general manager Rick Spielman seemed to hint recently that he’d feel comfortable with Smith and Conklin atop his depth chart.

“Irv does it with his ability to run and his athletic ability … [hopefully we get the] same type of production going forward,” Spielman said (via Eric Smith of the team’s website). “And I think the other guy that really jumped out at the tight end position was Tyler Conklin, and last year he took a significant jump when he got his opportunity to play, not only making some plays in the passing game but in his development as a blocker at the line of scrimmage as well.”