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Written By Sam Ekstrom (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen
The Minnesota Vikings officially settled some significant speculation Tuesday as they extended tight end Kyle Rudolph with a four-year, $36 million contract after roughly two months of negotiations and trade rumors.
The reported contract makes Rudolph the fourth-highest-paid tight end in the NFL, based on average annual value, though with only $16 million guaranteed Rudolph will need to keep performing at a high level in order to earn the dollars available on the new deal that runs through 2023. He has finished in the NFL’s top 10 in receptions each of the last three years.
After this year, it’s year-to-year for Kyle Rudolph. But if he plays like himself, he’ll likely be back in Minnesota at a manageable number, which is what he wanted. https://t.co/bGv6GEam48
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 11, 2019
Throughout the process, Rudolph was bullish about the amount of years he has left in the tank, notably commenting back in April that he hadn’t reached “the back nine” of his career. Taken literally, he’s right. The 2019 season marks his ninth year on the team after being selected in the second round of 2011 draft. Rudolph has started all 16 games in four consecutive seasons, ranking third in tight end touchdowns (24) over that span, behind only Rob Gronkowski (25) and Travis Kelce (27).
Despite whispers that the Vikings may be looking to trade Rudolph in an effort to relieve a tight salary cap situation — and perhaps making him expendable by drafting tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round — Rudolph says he never doubted his future with the organization that selected him over eight years ago.
“My wife Jordan and I knew all along we were going to end up back here,” Rudolph said Tuesday. “Rob [Brzezinski] and my agents worked long hours to make sure that there was a way to get this done. I’m excited it’s behind me. I mentioned last night that I have unfinished business, and that business is bringing the first championship here to this organization and the state of Minnesota.”
Brzezinski has been masterful at squeezing new money under the salary cap with contracts for Adam Thielen, Josh Kline and now Rudolph after the team was seemingly cap-strapped following the re-signing of Anthony Barr. If the theme of the last few years has been the retention of the defensive corps, the 2019 offseason has been about investing in the offense between locking up key pass-catchers, bolstering the offensive line and compiling an offense-heavy draft class.
Rudolph sees the Vikings’ “win-now mentality” manifested in their recent dealings. While their list of long-term contracts grows, it’s possible the salary cap eventually catches up with the Vikings and forces them into tough personnel decisions sooner than later. But their desire for continuity, while expensive, has instilled a distinct culture that’s grown stronger each year of the Mike Zimmer era.
The tight end expressed that he might have made more money had he sampled free agency next March, but his mind went back to a conversation he had with longtime Vikings fullback Jim Kleinsasser back in 2011, Rudolph’s rookie year. Kleinsasser, the 13-year vet, had multiple opportunities to leave the organization for more money but told Rudolph he opted to make Minnesota his permanent home because of the strength of the organization. If Rudolph plays out his contract, he’ll match Kleinsasser for 13 years with the franchise.
“There’s a reason why people come back to this organization,” Rudolph said. “There’s a reason why Anthony Barr left more money on the table. There’s a reason why I had no interest in testing free agency. It’s because of the culture that they’ve established around here, and culture is what ultimately brings championships. In this league the talent level is so even across all 32 teams, and if you don’t have good culture then you don’t have a chance, and we have good culture here.”
Tight end injuries
Rudolph was one of only three healthy tight ends at the Vikings’ mandatory mini-camp practice on Tuesday. Smith, Tyler Conklin and David Morgan II were all inactive, leaving only Rudolph, 2018 practice squad acquisition Cole Hikutini and undrafted rookie Brandon Dillon available.
Smith and Conklin both observed practice from the sideline, while Morgan didn’t show up until the end wearing a sleeve on his right leg and showing a limp. He has yet to participate in any offseason practices.
The receiving corps was also depleted with Jeff Badet and Jordan Taylor inactive, while Brandon Zylstra left with trainer Eric Sugarman midway through practice. That left Chad Beebe to take a bulk of the reps as the third wide receiver.