That’s two-time Pro Bowler and free agent Kyle Rudolph, whom ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported as a target for the Bucs on Thursday, July 14. The Vikings also have interest in bringing back Rudolph after a year away with the New York Giants, Fowler wrote.
“This situation should crystallize some time before camps open,” Fowler wrote.
With Gronkowski clarifying on Tuesday, July 12, that he’s done for good, the Bucs have a huge void in experience at tight end to fill with Cameron Brate as the only experienced veteran on the roster. Codey McElroy has three games of experience, and the rest of the Bucs tight ends just became pros this year.
Rudolph, 32, could help alleviate the void left by Gronkowski, especially if the former Notre Dame star can return to his better days as a Vikings. He caught 39 passes for 367 yards and six touchdowns with the Vikings in 2019, but he had just 28 receptions for 334 yards and a touchdown in 2020. He averages 9.9 yards per reception for his career, and he maintained last season despite a down year with the Giants.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady would at least gain another experienced pass-catching threat to pair with Brate.
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Rudolph’s Stellar Career in Minnesota
Rudolph became the Vikings’ all-time touchdowns leader among tight ends years earlier in the 2016 season, passing former six-time Pro Bowler Steve Jordan. Rudolph finished his Vikings career with 48 touchdowns in 10 seasons.
Minnesota moved on from Rudolph in 2021 due to his salary cap hit of $9.45 million per ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, and the Vikings drafted Irv Smith. Some of Rudolph’s brightest moments with the Vikings came against Bucs rival New Orleans — including a game-winning touchdown pass in the 2019 playoffs.
Rudolph showed the ability to develop chemistry with quarterbacks quickly in Minnesota, especially after Teddy Bridgewater‘s catastrophic knee injury in 2016. Rudolph played with 10 different quarterbacks from a future Hall of Famer in Donovan McNabb to an upstart backup in Case Keenum. Rudolph notably helped Keenum and the Vikings reach the NFC Championship game for the 2017 season.
In New York, Rudolph didn’t find a niche in the Giants offense as he finished with 26 receptions for 257 yards and a touchdown. The Giants were notably 31st in passing yards last season.
What Will Rudolph Cost?
Rudolph expressed interest in returning to the Vikings during an interview on KFAN in June, but he also mentioned winning a championship. The Vikings haven’t made it past an NFC Championship game since 1977. The Bucs look poised to make another run to the Super Bowl with Brady, a seven-time champion, back under center.
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