Tyler Conklin May Be Getting Too Expensive

Tyler Conklin / Irv Smith Jr.
Nov 8, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) celebrates with tight end Tyler Conklin (83) after catching a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season, the Vikings received the unfortunate news that Irv Smith Jr. – the third-year TE who had fantasy football managers everywhere excited – would be done for the year. As a result, Tyler Conklin was thrown into the TE1 spot. Chris Herndon was acquired in a trade, though he has failed to make an impact. Conklin has been the team’s definitive TE1.

The issue is that he has actually played well. Will the team be able to afford him in 2022?

Tyler Conklin

A 2018 fifth-rounder, Conklin made very little impact at the beginning of his career. Every year, though, his playing time has increased. He went from 14% of the offensive snaps as a rookie to 28% as a sophomore. Last year, that number jumped up to 41%. The peak, of course, has come in 2021; Conklin has been in on 81% of the snaps, nearly double his previous best. Conklin doesn’t deserve all the credit for this. After all, Smith got hurt, and yet the fact remains that he’s been a crucial ingredient for this season’s offense.

Justin Jefferson, very rightly, leads the team with 149 targets. Adam Thielen is #2 with 95 targets. Conklin sneaks onto the podium with 74 targets, one ahead of sophomore receiver KJ Osborn. Cousins, quite evidently, feels comfortable throwing the ball to the 6’3, 248 pound tight end. Conklin has turned this opportunity into 54 catches, 540 yards, and 3 TDs.

PFF suggests that Tyler Conklin is a low-end, tier-1 tight end. Currently, he comes in as their 30th-best TE. Keep in mind that his receiving grade is a healthy 69.7, a score that is 18th overall. The overwhelming majority of his snaps have come inline (722 snaps), though he has been lined up in the slot (70 snaps), out wide (39 snaps), and in the backfield (9 snaps).

The plan is for Irv Smith to be back next season. If the team plans on using plenty of 21 personnel, then perhaps keeping Conklin in town makes sense. He could be used when Smith needs a rest.

The Dollars and Cents

Having a strong TE2 is more of a luxury than a need. With that reality in mind, can they justify spending extra money on Tyler Conklin?

For the current season, Conklin has an almost completely unguaranteed $990,000 salary. The NFL’s preeminent tight ends make around $14-15 million a year. This group includes George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Mark Andrews. Conklin isn’t anywhere close to these three. There are a cluster of tight ends in that tier-2 range. Players like Kyle Rudolph – who has 22 catches, 240 yards, and a single TD – is making $6 million. The 37-year-old Mercedes Lewis is in GB as a veteran who can block and catch the occasional pass; he is making $4 million.

In other words, expect Conklin to demand a contract that covers multiple seasons at an average that exceeds $5 million a year. Honestly, I can’t blame him. He’s coming off a strong season and has the chance at life-changing money. He should get the deal, it just shouldn’t come in Minnesota. The Vikings will already need to do some serious financial maneuvering to make the numbers work, so adding on Conklin just doesn’t make sense.

In all likelihood, the team will move ahead with Jefferson, Osborn, and Smith as the main pass catchers. They may low-ball Conklin, but fans should expect him to sign elsewhere.

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