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Zulgad: Will Irv Smith Jr.’s injury cause Vikings to make a call on Eagles tight end Zach Ertz?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles
Aug 12, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be Irv Smith Jr.’s breakout season.

With Kyle Rudolph now with the New York Giants, there was no longer a debate about which tight end was atop the Vikings’ depth chart. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and Smith developed a chemistry in the opening days of camp and that carried over into Minnesota’s preseason finale on Friday night as Smith had two catches for 39 yards, including a long of 23 yards, in a loss to the Chiefs.

The fact the Vikings’ top two wide receivers, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, and top running back, Dalvin Cook, had either not played in the preseason (Jefferson and Cook), or barely seen action (Thielen), set up the potential that Smith could thrive while opposing defenses attempted to take away the Vikings’ other very talented skill-position players.

But Smith has been taken out of that mix, at least for the early weeks of the season, because of a meniscus injury that will sideline him for at least the start of the regular season, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Two things remained unclear on Sunday after Pelissero’s report. 1) When Smith was injured; and 2) How long he will be out. As you can see from the above tweet, there is a chance that he will miss two-to-four weeks, but a repair of the meniscus will end his season before it starts. Smith had 36 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games as a rookie and 30 receptions for 365 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games last season.

The Vikings also have been without tight end Tyler Conklin, who reportedly is dealing with a hamstring injury. That leaves the Vikings with three inexperienced tight ends in Zach Davidson, Brandon Dillon and Shane Zylstra. Davidson and Zylstra are rookies and Dillon has one year of experience.

Considering the importance of the tight end in first-time offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak’s system, it’s likely the team will try to either address the sudden lack of depth through a trade or by claiming someone off waivers when rosters are cut to 53 players on Tuesday. The Vikings’ decision also will be shaped by how long Smith will be out.

If Smith is lost for the season, one tight end the Vikings could target in a trade is Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz. There has been speculation for months that Ertz could be moved, and Dallas Goedert is the future at that position for the Eagles.

Ertz had a poor 2020 season for Philadelphia, catching only 36 passes for 335 yards and one touchdown in 11 games. That came after he had 88 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns in 2019 as he was named to a third consecutive Pro Bowl.

The question is what would the Eagles want in return for the 30-year-old Ertz and how many teams would be in the bidding? The other question is how desperate will Vikings general manager Rick Spielman be? That won’t be answered for a few more days.