Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph told me from Day 1 he believed he would stay with the team, even though there were tough contract negotiations going on and rumors that he might be traded.

On top of that, Rudolph didn’t miss a day of OTAs or minicamp, even though he could have stayed away from the team while trying to get a new deal, which finally happened this past week with a four-year, $36 million extension.

I’ve had a great relationship with Rudolph since he was drafted in the second round out of Notre Dame in 2011. Since then, he has produced 386 receptions for 3,787 yards and 41 touchdowns over eight seasons with the Vikings, appearing in two Pro Bowls. He said that this was a difficult negotiation, and one he is glad is over.

“We ultimately got accomplished what everyone wanted,” he said. “Our goal this whole time was to stay here, and now I’m excited to just be able to focus on football, and the whole reason I am here is to play my part in bringing the first championship to Minnesota. Everybody in this building is working to be the first. We want to be the first team that brings a Super Bowl to the state of Minnesota and this organization.”

The 29-year-old Rudolph said that even though those rumors were swirling around, and at one point he told me he knew there were other teams interested in him, he never doubted a deal with the Vikings could get done.

“There is always going to be tough times throughout a negotiation, but as I mentioned a couple of times during the check-ins, I trusted my agent and I trusted this organization that, at the end of the day, it was going to get done,” he said. “We were going to find something that was fair for both sides and that would keep me here for the foreseeable future.”

Asked if he had to make a sacrifice financially to get this contract, Rudolph said: “No, like I said we got a deal that was fair for both sides. Certainly I could have played this deal out and tested the free-agent market and made more money, but that’s not what I want to do. I want to be here. I want to be in this organization and I want to be a part of this community. That was more important to me than testing the free agent market after this season.”

Rudolph never lost faith in General Manager Rick Spielman and Executive Vice President Rob Brzezinski, and the Vikings never lost faith in him.

Mauer joins Twins greats

The Twins have now retired eight numbers: Joe Mauer’s No. 7 on Saturday joined Harmon Killebrew (No. 3), Tony Oliva (6), Tom Kelly (10), Kent Hrbek (14), Bert Blyleven (28), Rod Carew (29) and Kirby Puckett (34).

But no one has had their number retired as quickly as Mauer.

While Mauer has gotten so many accolades for is major league career, it’s no secret he was maybe the greatest prep athlete in state history. Everyone began to take notice of him back in 1999 when national rating services pegged him as the best football player in the nation.

But baseball was always going to be his sport. In 2009, ESPN rated him as the greatest prep baseball player of the past century after he hit .605 as a senior.

And before that, Mauer was the USA Today Player of the Year in football and baseball at Cretin-Derham Hall, something that had never been done before. He also was an all-state selection in basketball.

The fact that he is now having his number retired by the Twins is a testament to one of the greatest athletic careers in state history.

One of the great moments in Twins history was when they were able to sign Mauer to a $186 million extension just a few weeks before the opening of Target Field in 2010.

Then-Commissioner Bud Selig came to the opener of the new ballpark and told me that the difference in the Twins’ ability to keep a player like Mauer, after the departures a few years earlier of stars Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, showed just how important Target Field was to the team.

“I had to be the happiest guy in America other than [Twins executives] Dave St. Peter, Jerry Bell and Bill Smith, because it was a manifestation of the system,” Selig said at the time. “It couldn’t have happened 10 or 15 years ago, which was part of the frustration of that era. The Twins couldn’t have afforded Mauer without the new ballpark. I told Joe Mauer that. He made me very, very happy. It’s a great tribute to Joe Mauer. It’s a great tribute to baseball. And it’s a really great tribute to the Minnesota Twins and the entire organization.”

Selig also said that day that you no longer had to worry about the Twins leaving Minnesota, because the kind of contract they gave to Mauer proved that they were going to be around the Twin Cities for a very long time.

And while attendance has had some rough spots in the past few years as the Twins struggled, there’s no doubt Mauer remained the main draw during some of those seasons.

And with his number now retired at Target Field, he can look back at an incredible career as he ranks fourth in career batting average for the Twins, second in games played, second in hits, third in runs, first in doubles, fifth in RBI and second in walks.

Jottings

• The 2019 NFL schedule didn’t give the Vikings any breaks. They have the 10th-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL and third toughest in the NFC. Their opponents’ combined record last year was 130-124-2. The defending NFC North champion Bears are tied for the fifth hardest strength of schedule.

 

• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he has liked what he’s seen from running backDalvin Cook this spring, saying: “Cook has had a really, really good spring. Gary [Kubiak] and I were talking about him this morning. He looks really, really good, especially with the things we’re trying to do in the running game.”

 

• Gophers coach P.J. Fleck on the start of the summer program for his football team: “They’ll be working out, they’ll be lifting, they’ll be having their own player practices and doing what they do. This is a time of year where the coaches can’t have a lot of contact with them at all, in terms of the coaching aspect, we’re on the road recruiting and at camps anyway.”

• College football writer Phil Steele has Gophers linebacker Carter Coughlin as a preseason All-America. Coughlin was also named Academic All-Big Ten in 2018. Among other Steele selections, he picked Nebraska to win the Big Ten West while tabbing the Gophers for fourth, and had Fresno State, the Gophers’ second opponent, as the co-favorite to win the Mountain West Conference.

 

• One downside to the deep Twins roster is that they can only allow one player on the All-Star ballot at each position. Mitch Garver is not on the ballot at catcher, but Jason Castro ranked third among AL catchers in voting released Monday. 2017 All-Star Miguel Sano also is not on the ballot, as Marwin Gonzalez is at third for the Twins.

 

• ESPN’s latest NBA mock draft had a surprise at No. 11 with the Timberwolves taking Nassir Little, a 6-6 forward who averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds as a freshman last season at North Carolina, on Thursday.