Kyle Rudolph was returning home from dinner with his family Friday evening when his agent, Brian Murphy, called with the news that the Vikings had just selected Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round of the NFL draft.
“It’s awesome,” the Vikings tight end said by phone shortly after the pick was made.
“Basically, if you watch Coach [Gary] Kubiak’s system over the years, he’s had a lot of guys who can play at a high level while using multiple-tight end sets,” said Rudolph, referring to the team’s new assistant head coach/offensive adviser. “So, I think it’s awesome to add another weapon.”
Rudolph is entering his ninth NFL season. He turns 30 in November. But if you call him old, he’ll show you the new T-shirt — the one that reads, “Lots of game left” — he wore when he reported to TCO Performance Center for the start of offseason workouts last week.
A week later, the Vikings took a 20-year-old tight end who’s 6-2, 242, runs the 40 in the 4.5 range and, according to Vikings college scouting director Jamaal Stephenson, “is a perfect fit for our new scheme in terms of a mismatch guy.”
General Manager Rick Spielman added that Smith is “the type of tight end we’ve not had here.” When asked what that meant for Rudolph, Spielman said: “Kyle Rudolph’s here. Two different styles with what Kyle does and what Irv can do. Two totally different types of tight ends.”
Asked if that means the team envisions using them together in more two-tight end sets, Spielman pointed to the high percentage of three-receiver sets employed a year ago and how having Rudolph and Smith can allow the Vikings “to do a lot more different types of personnel to create mismatches.”
Financially, Smith will have a team-friendly rookie salary. Meanwhile, Rudolph carries a $7.625 million salary that’s not guaranteed.
Rudolph said he hasn’t been approached about taking a pay cut, but that’s likely to happen as the cap-strapped Vikings look to make moves to sign their rookies. Spielman declined to comment when asked about it.
Another possibility is a trade. Rumors surfaced Thursday about a possible trade to the Patriots.
Yes, Rudolph heard the rumors.
“Until it happens, I’m here in Minnesota,” Rudolph said. “My family is here in Minnesota. This is home for us. I have poured my heart and soul into this organization and given it everything that I had. I will continue to do that as long as I’m still wearing purple.”
The Vikings had the 18th pick of the second round. They got the first tight end of the day and the third overall. An early Day 2 run on corners (six) and offensive linemen (six) cleared the way for Smith — a first-round talent, according to many draft prognosticators — to fall to the Vikings.
Asked if Smith was the guy the Vikings targeted going into the round, Stephenson would only say, “He was one of the guys.”
Smith can line up wide, tight or in the backfield. His speed, toughness and big body fill the center-of-the-field mismatch need that Stephenson said the team has been discussing in draft meetings for weeks.
“It was crucial,” he said. “We want to be more explosive on offense.”
Will this plan include Rudolph? Rudolph certainly hopes so and has made it known that he would be open to taking a restructured contract.
“This is part of the NFL, younger guys coming in,” Rudolph said. “But I truly believe my best football is still ahead of me. Whether it’s here or not, that’s not my decision. But I do know the football I have left in me, and that’s all I can control.”
Rudolph said he thinks Kubiak’s track record proves there’s room for him and Smith.
“It’s definitely one of Coach Kubiak’s ways of creating mismatches,” said Rudolph, who had 64 catches for 634 yards and four touchdowns last year. “Keep base defenses on the field and throw the ball around a little bit.”
Rudolph’s plans after dinner Friday night were to settle in and watch the draft.
“I’ll just hang out for the draft a little bit,” he said. “We added some guys who will help us on offense. Hopefully, we can get some more.”
Was he also watching to see if, indeed, a trade was in the works for him?
“If there’s a trade,” he said, “I’m sure somebody will call me and let me know.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org