Saints-Slaying Tight End Could Join Bucs: Analysis

Tom Brady

Getty Tom Brady has an 0-4 regular season record against the New Orleans Saints since joining the Buccaneers.

With Rob Gronkowski’s future still in doubt, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could add a tight end who has rival New Orleans’ number.

Two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph, 32, helped the Minnesota Vikings beat New Orleans twice in the playoffs between 2018 and 2020. He caught a game-winning touchdown against the Saints in 2020, and he caught five passes in the Vikings’ comeback win in 2018.

 

No current Bucs tight end has playoff experience other than Cameron Brate. The Saints have a 6-0 regular-season mark against the Bucs since 2019. Most of all, the Bucs don’t have a proven veteran pass-catching tight end beyond Brate if Gronkowski doesn’t return.

Rudolph also has a history of building chemistry with quarterbacks quickly due to a revolving door in Minnesota. He played with seven different quarterbacks who had six or more starts in a season between 2011 and 2020. During that stretch, Rudolph amassed 665 catches for  4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns.

His last season in New York for 2021 didn’t go as well with just 26 catches for 257 yards and a touchdown. The Giants notably finished 4-13 overall plus 31st in total offense — the worst team Rudolph has played for since 2011.

While the Giants released Rudolph in March, he isn’t far removed from some of his best years. He averaged at least 9.9 yards per reception in three of his past four seasons, and he tallied six touchdowns in 2019 and four in 2018. His 532-yard, eight-touchdown season in 2017 helped the Vikings reach the NFC Championship with a backup quarterback.

Other contenders such as the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos have shown interest in Rudolph. He wouldn’t cost a team very much to sign before training camp. Rudolph made $2.4 million in New York last season per Spotrac.


Instant Upgrade for Bucs

Rudolph’s numbers eclipse Brate’s numbers for receptions and yards in each of the past four seasons. Brate had more touchdowns but caught most of those from superstar quarterback Tom Brady as opposed to Daniel Jones or Kirk Cousins for Rudolph. After Brate, the Bucs have two games of experience at tight plus rookies drafted no higher than the fourth round.

Codey McElroy has played in two games for his career while splitting time between the roster and practice squad. McElroy impressed Bucs coaches with his blocking at minicamp, but head coach Todd Bowles said McElroy will need to prove himself at training camp.

Cade Otton, the Bucs’ fourth-round pick, sat out minicamp due to an ankle injury. Otton posted solid numbers at Washington as a pass-catcher.

Ko Kieft, a sixth-round pick, caught a touchdown pass during minicamp but mainly served as a blocker at Minnesota. Ben Beise and J.J. Howland joined the team as undrafted free agents.

Gronkowski has remained undecided about his future, and six weeks remain until the Bucs begin training camp. Neither Bowles nor Brady has expressed certainty of a return by Gronkowski. Brady’s longtime teammate said in April that he will play for the Bucs if he returns but the rest remains uncertain.


Something Has to Change

In two seasons with Brady, the Bucs have an 0-4 mark against the Saints.

That includes a 9-0 shutout loss in 2021 and a 38-3 defeat in 2020. Brady has looked pedestrian in all four games, and Gronkowski notably didn’t catch any touchdowns in those losses.

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