After a decade-long tenure, the Minnesota Vikings’ most veteran player was released.
The Vikings announced the release of longtime starting tight end Kyle Rudolph, 31, who enters the 11th season of his career as a free agent for the first time in his career on Tuesday.
“From the moment we drafted Kyle as a young man out of Notre Dame in 2011, through his 10th season with the Vikings in 2020, he has been one of the premier tight ends in the NFL and most influential and positive leaders I’ve ever been around,” general manager Rick Spielman said in a team press release. “Kyle and Jordan have made such an immeasurable impact on our team and community that may never be matched. The energy they have invested in the community, most notably through the End Zone at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, is truly remarkable. I admire Kyle and we will miss him and his family. We sincerely wish them the best.”
The decision to cut Rudolph was inevitable. Minnesota needs to create cap space in an unprecedented year where the 2021 salary cap is expected to take a dip after consistent growth. The exact number has yet to be set by the NFL, however, releasing Rudolph frees up roughly $5 million in cap space, per the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling.
“Kyle has been a leader and mentor for us on and off the field from the first day I arrived in Minnesota. He has been such an important part of this team and community throughout his career and it has been an honor to coach him the last seven seasons,” coach Mike Zimmer said in the release. “He will be missed, and we wish him and his family nothing but the best.”
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Rudolph Penned His Exit Early in the Offseason
After seeing a diminishing role in the Vikings offense over the past two seasons, Rudolph made his claim that his lack of production was from doing what was asked of him, rather than a physical decline due to his age.
He was due the second-highest base salary of any tight end in the league despite ranking 36th in receptions last season.
Rudolph said he believes he’s “worth every dime” of his contract as he developed into a serviceable run blocker after being pigeonholed into the role.
On the Unrestricted with Ben Leber podcast, Rudolph broke down how his role on the team changed entering this offseason:
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.’
The Writing was on the Wall With Depth at Tight End
Minnesota is set at tight end despite the departure of Rudolph.
Irv Smith Jr. has been guided by Rudolph over the past two seasons and now takes the reins as the team’s true No. 1 option at tight end. Tyler Conklin, who came on late last season, is poised to take over in two-tight end sets.
Rudolph leaves as the Vikings’ all-time leader in touchdowns as a tight end (47) and holds the single-season receptions record for tight ends with 83 receptions in 2016.
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