After a decade with the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft, Rudolph was released by the Vikings last March.
The 32-year-old tight end has moved on, playing for the New York Giants, although his family is still deeply rooted in Minnesota.
And while he is still fond of the Vikings franchise, Rudolph hasn’t remained tight-lipped about Kirk Cousins — most recently neglecting to give Cousins any respect in an interview on January 5.
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Sam Bradford a Better QB Thank Cousins?
In an interview with WFAN Sports Radio, Rudolph was prompted to assess Giants quarterback Daniel Jones compared to the QBs he’s played with in his career.
Hosts Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney mention Cousins and Teddy Bridgewater in their separate prompts for Rudolph, both asking if Daniel Jones is the best quarterback he’s played with.
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“Absolutely,” Rudolph agreed with Tierney. “I’ve said that since day one. He’s certainly the most talented guy I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with a lot.”
Jones may be a better athlete, but he has yet to play an entire season uninjured. Cousins has outperformed him in every passing category since 2019, per StatHead.
Sure, it’s the type of answer you’d expect from Rudolph, building up his teammate.
But Rudolph also ranked “a healthy Sam Bradford” ahead of Cousins.
“A healthy Sam Bradford is probably the best that I’ve ever played,” Rudolph said. “Just the ability he had to put the ball in places and (Jones) has that, but I mentioned he has the athleticism to make things happen.”
But beyond Bradford’s potential when healthy, Rudolph neglected to show Cousins any respect.
Rudolph Has Ghosted Cousins Before
Rudolph once came to the defense of Cousins, who he praised after catching the biggest touchdown of his career — a walk-off, overtime TD reception to beat the New Orleans Saints in 2019.
But feelings have grown sour in Minnesota, and Rudolph’s toward Cousins may have been another harbinger of the team’s struggles that followed this season.
Rudolph saw a steady decline in usage in the passing game as the Vikings transitioned him into a blocking role. After seeing 92 targets per season from 2015-18, Rudolph’s target-share dwindled to 42.5 targets in his final two seasons with the Vikings. Rudolph was still a reliable red-zone threat in 2019, catching nine touchdowns that season. He also never dropped a past in his final two years.
Albeit his best efforts, Rudolph’s role in the red zone was also nixed in 2020, catching just one touchdown that season.
Rudolph wasn’t thrilled about becoming the blocking tight end at the time but took ownership of the role for the franchise.
Here’s Rudolph’s take of his falling out of the Vikings offense in an exclusive interview on the Unrestricted with Ben Leber podcast:
I think I’m worth every dime of my contract. That doesn’t mean that I’m used to my potential and I’m used to do what I do well. So, it will be interesting over the next few months. Like I said, I have three years left in my contract. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’ve somehow become a pretty decent blocker because I’ve been forced to. It certainly wasn’t something that I ever did well at any point in my career — maybe in high school because I was just bigger than everyone else — but even then, I just wanted to run around and catch balls.
Early on last season, the writing was on the wall. I saw where our offense was going. I had like seven or eight catches in the first six games. It was just absurd. I was literally blocking all the time. Obviously, as a tight end, you’re going to block in the run game. That’s something I’ve always had to work at. It’s not something that comes easy to me, but for me, it’s always been important to be a complete tight end and not somebody they have to put out wide or put on the backside of the formation or run an RPO-type slant-drag. … I’ve always prided myself on not being one of those guys.
Like I said, you go back to the beginning of last season and I’m like, ‘Okay I’ve got one or two [options] here. I can either get really good at the only thing I’m asked to do or I can complain about it and I can cause a scene, throw a fit. But what’s going to be more productive for our team and this organization.’
But when asked about whether he’d take a pay cut to stay with the team, Rudolph declined. Cousins demanding the cap space that he does as one of the league’s highest-paid players may make him the target of some collateral frustration (Rudolph wouldn’t be the first Vikings pass-catcher to ).
“I can’t sign up for that again,” Rudolph said. “Am I going to all of a sudden derail my career with a lot of football left because, you know how it goes, you get into your early 30s [and] everyone just assumes you’re done. You’re old. You’re over 30. You can’t do it anymore. Well, if I just block every play, the other 31 teams are going to assume that as well.”
In his Players’ Tribune piece titled Dear Minnesota, Rudolph thanked many quarterbacks that have come and gone in his career, Bridgewater being an obvious one. Even stopgap quarterbacks like Matt Cassel and Bradford got their due respect.
Not Cousins, who wasn’t mentioned in the piece.
Rudolph wouldn’t be the first Vikings pass-catcher to be frustrated when every issue with the team tends to circle back to the quarterback’s paychecks, leading to his departure.
His playing prospects haven’t been great post-Minnesota. Entering his 16th game this season, Rudolph has posted a career-low in receptions (22) and has only one touchdown.