New Panthers TE deal impacts Tyler Conklin’s future with Vikings

Tyler Conklin

The Minnesota Vikings have 2nd-round draft capital wrapped up in tight end Irv Smith Jr., a player selected in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Last year, Smith Jr. presented a promising pre-season after a decent second campaign in 2020. Due to his athleticism, age and reputation, he was theorized to break out the third year as a pro . However, he was injured in the preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs, missing the entire 2021 season.

Irv Smith Jr.
September 22, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker – USA TODAY Sports

So the Vikings are back to a familiar place with Smith Jr. – lots of to hope. He’ll be healthy in 2022, and he should become semi-famous inside a Kevin O’Connell offense.

Replacing Smith Jr. last season, tight end Tyler Conklin has fulfilled his role admirably. Conklin had 593 receiving yards and three touchdowns — an unexpected outing for a man most believed to be a TE2 or TE3. Incidentally, Conklin is a free agent this offseason, free to sign with any of the NFL’s 32 teams.

On Friday, a tight end for the Carolina Panthers, Ian Thomas, signed a notable deal, paying Thomas around $6.5 million a year.

This directly affects Conklin’s future with the Vikings, as Thomas was a significantly less prolific wide receiver than Conklin in 2021. Thomas had 188 receiving yards and zero touchdowns – and still commanded around $7 million per season via a extension.

Conklin can match that with a team or even surpass it. And the Vikings don’t really have $6.5 million lying around to splurge on backup tight ends. Minnesota is in the fourth-worst form for cap space in the league as of Feb. 24, so before even considering a Conklin extension, new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah needs to handle the piggy bank. Also, when he and his buddies find the money, they’ll have to allocate the funds to defensive staff. Minnesota needs faces on defense — up to at least four starters.

Conklin was still going to fetch relatively large sums on the open market after it was produced in 2021. But the Thomas expansion defines the market in miniature.

The Vikings will be focused on extracting everything they can from the restored Smith Jr. Conklin is unlikely to be a priority in free agency.

This is what happens when a player makes a name for himself on a cash-strapped team.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He host a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, airing every Wednesday with Raun Saw and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Guilty pleasures listed: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, “The Sopranos” and The Doors (the band).

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