Kyle Rudolph’s future with the Vikings — following the team’s second-round selection of Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. — remained in a state of limbo when organized team activities kicked off Tuesday morning. Rudolph, nevertheless, boarded a 6 a.m. flight from New York to the Twin Cities so he could be there for the first 11-on-11 work of the offseason.
The 29-year-old is hoping to continue his career in Minnesota for many more years.
Rudolph said Wednesday there is “validity” to last week’s Pro Football Talk report the Vikings have offered him a five-year contract extension that would make him one of the league’s highest-paid tight ends while providing relief to a cap-strapped team. He has been the subject of trade rumors in recent weeks, and said his agent, Brian Murphy, has told him of interest from several teams.
On Wednesday, though, Rudolph cited Murphy’s long history of business with the Vikings’ front office as a reason for his hope a deal would get done this spring.
“He’s got four Pro Bowlers and a first-round pick [on the Vikings’ roster], so they’ve worked together plenty of times,“ Rudolph said. “I can just come out here every day and worry about practice, because I trust Brian and I trust [VP of football operations] Rob [Brzezinski]. I know they’re working extremely hard to try to make something happen.”
Rudolph was in New York to receive a leadership in community award at the Kelly Cares Foundation’s Irish Eyes Gala. He told the Star Tribune earlier this month he wouldn’t accept a pay cut from the Vikings, saying, “I’m too young for that.” Talks between the Vikings and Rudolph’s camp on an extension had ground to a standstill earlier this month, and it remains to be seen whether they will be able to agree on the structure of a deal that’s amenable to both sides.
The Vikings, as part of a new deal, could easily lower Rudolph’s 2019 cap number by taking a similar approach to the one they used with Eric Kendricks last week, converting part of the linebacker’s 2019 base salary to a signing bonus so they had the cap space to sign first-round pick Garrett Bradbury. Because signing bonuses are amortized for up to five years over the life of a contract, the Vikings could keep Rudolph’s $7.625 million salary the same for 2019, but create more than $5 million in cap space just by giving him a league-minimum $930,000 base salary and converting the remainder of his base salary to a signing bonus.
With Rudolph set to turn 30 in November, though, the presence or structure of guaranteed cash beyond 2019 could be a sticking point in negotiations. Absent the kind of guaranteed money that would make it difficult for the Vikings to release him in the future, a designation as one of the league’s highest-paid tight ends wouldn’t provide much security for Rudolph.
In the meantime, though, the eight-year veteran is at the Vikings’ practice facility, working with Smith as part of an offense the Vikings hope can have more versatility than it did last year.
“It forces defenses to play with three linebackers, and that allows us to control the game,” Rudolph said. “When we go out there in three-wide [receiver] sets, people talk about creating mismatches; now they have five [defensive backs] on the field. Yeah, there’s still mismatches, but now [with two tight ends] we can kind of control and do things how we want to do them.”
Even with Smith’s presence contributing to Rudolph’s uncertain status, the rookie said Rudolph has been readily available with advice on everything from route-running details to film study habits.
“Kyle’s done such a great job not making [his contract] a distraction, and not for the tight end room,” Smith said. “He’s here, he’s part of this team, and I’m just trying to pick his brain and learn from him.”
Wednesday’s statements, of course, are no guarantor of an eventual deal between Rudolph and the Vikings, who remain at the moment without the cap space to address other needs on their 2019 roster. The fact Rudolph was in the building, though, seemed to suggest his willingness to continue working with the Vikings through an awkward situation.
“No surprise,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Kyle’s going to be consistent, and be the guy he’s always been. We love him for it. It’s why he’s played as many years as he’s had, and had so much production in this league. It’s not by accident. It’s something that he’s built and established. I think his future’s bright, and he’s got nothing to worry about.”