Vikings

Would An Irv Smith Jr. Extension Cause A Domino Effect?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

After missing the 2021 season with a torn meniscus, Irv Smith Jr. is set to return to action, where he’ll be an integral part of Kevin O’Connell‘s offense. The Minnesota Vikings have primed Smith for an increased role for quite some time. Before his injury, the Vikings released veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, and they let Tyler Conklin sign with the New York Jets this offseason. Smith is poised to have a breakout season in the final year of his rookie deal.

Barring another major injury, an extension seems inevitable. The talent gap between Smith and the rest of the tight end group is significant. Johnny Mundt has yet to shake off the “blocking tight end” label, and the rest of the roster is comprised of developmental prospects like Nick Muse and Zach Davidson.

While Smith is deserving of an extension, it will trigger a domino effect that will force Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the front office to make some difficult decisions. Before getting into the minutiae of it all, there needs to be a baseline of what Irv Smith Jr.’s extension will look like. Fortunately, Jonnu Smith‘s career production is comparable to Irv’s. Jonnu Smith signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New England Patriots last offseason.

Using Jonnu Smith’s contract as a starting point, I was able to get a better understanding of what a hypothetical Irv Smith Jr. extension would look like. The only modifications I made were increasing the signing bonus from $15 to $20 million and balancing how the money was prorated over the four-year deal.

Here’s how it all turned out:

Irv Smith Jr. 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026
Base Salary $1,285,698 $2,500,000 $4,500,000 $10,500,000 $12,500,000
Prorated Bonus $4,559,260 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,000,000
Cap Number $5,844,958 $6,500,000 $8,500,000 $14,500,000 $16,500,000

The most important aspect I had to consider was whether the contract should be front-loaded or back-loaded. Ultimately, I decided it would be better to backload the contract due to Irv Smith’s injury history. From there, the Vikings could negotiate a potential out before the start of the new league year in 2025 or 2026. If he continues to be hampered with injuries, the Vikings can opt to release him wherever the potential out is built in. The team could also offer injury incentives in the deal. However, it would be too time-consuming to illustrate that for this venture.

By offering Irv Smith this extension, the Vikings are projected to be $11,361,042 above the salary cap in 2023. While Rob Brzezinski has worked some ungodly cap magic in the past, eventually something has got to give. Ultimately, Minnesota has a few veterans on the roster who may be a bit redundant from a monetary standpoint.

Harrison Smith is one name to keep an eye on. By cutting Smith, the Vikings would clear $10,833,332 in salary cap space. The move would signal that the team is ready to move forward with Lewis Cine and Cam Bynum as the two starting safeties, long-term.

Other notable cut candidates include Za’Darius Smith ($10,833,332), Eric Kendricks ($9,500,000), and Adam Thielen ($6,417,647). The Vikings could also pinch pennies by cutting C.J. Ham ($3,050,000), Chris Reed ($2,500,000), or Johnny Mundt ($1,130,000) with minimal to no dead cap hits.

JUSTIN JEFFERSON

However, the biggest reason Irv Smith‘s contract is back-loaded is to make room for the massive, historic deal the Vikings will inevitably offer Justin Jefferson. Simply put, Jefferson’s representation will ensure that he becomes the NFL’s highest-paid receiver once his rookie contract expires. The Vikings’ front office should have no problems making that a reality.

The Vikings must get this deal done before rival teams can hammer out deals with their star receivers. CeeDee Lamb, Calvin Ridley, and Mike Evans are just a few names that are part of the 2024 free-agent class. However, it is unlikely that any of them will leave their respective teams.

With that in mind, here is what Jefferson’s mega-deal could look like:

Justin Jefferson 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027
Base Salary $1,802,982 $2,399,473 $22,000,000 $25,000,000 $27,000,000 $30,000,000
Prorated Bonus $1,775,965 $9,775,965 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 $8,000,000
Cap Number $3,578,947 $12,175,438 $30,000,000 $33,000,000 $35,000,000 $38,000,000

The four-year, $136 million extension features a $40 million signing bonus. With a $34 million average annual salary, the deal exceeds Tyreek Hill‘s AAV by over $10 million. It sounds ludicrous, but the market rate for superstar wideouts is rapidly evolving. The Jacksonville Jaguars signing Christian Kirk to a four-year, $84 million deal certainly didn’t help matters.

Giving Jefferson such a hefty contract raises another question.

IS IT SUPER BOWL OR BUST?

Think about it: Teams don’t usually give their star wide receiver the bag, only to turn around and let their starting quarterback walk. The Las Vegas Raiders paid both Davante Adams and Derek Carr obscene amounts of money to try to overtake the AFC West. When the Vikings first signed Kirk Cousins in free agency in 2018, the narrative was the team was going all-in.

It would be virtually unheard of for a team to draft a quarterback in the first round and expect a rookie to lead them to the Super Bowl. Even Patrick Mahomes had to sit behind Alex Smith for a year before taking over. Unless Kellen Mond follows Mahomes’ career arc, which doesn’t seem to be the case so far, I don’t see Mond taking over anytime soon.

A lot of fans are going to hate it, but the Vikings are most likely to extend Cousins. Here’s what that would look like:

Kirk Cousins 2022 2023 2024 2025
Base Salary $5,000,000 $10,000,000 $18,000,000 $22,000,000
Prorated and Non-Prorated Bonuses $26,416,668 $26,250,000 $26,250,000 $26,250,000
Cap Number $31,416,668 $36,250,000 $44,250,000 $48,250,000

It’s a two-year, $81 million extension with a $40 million signing bonus similar to Carr’s extension this offseason. The Vikings would still have $20 million in 2024 after the Cousins extension to extend Ezra Cleveland, K.J. Osborn, and Cam Dantzler, among others.

That is how one extension can potentially impact the entire trajectory of a franchise. It forces GMs to make a series of decisions that have implications on the decision after; hence a domino effect occurs. The Irv Smith Jr. extension may not be monumental in itself, but it will create a ripple effect that will determine the franchise’s direction for the foreseeable future.

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