MANKATO – Kyle Rudolph knew something was up when General Manager Rick Spielman motioned for him to come over as Vikings players trickled off the field after Sunday’s practice.
He realized it was good news when Spielman shook his hand and pulled him in for a quick hug.
The Vikings were giving Rudolph a lucrative extension that made him one of the league’s highest-paid tight ends and kept him under contract until 2019.
“It’s a dream come true, to walk off the practice field and have Rick [call me over] and give me a big hug and say, ‘Congratulations. You earned it. We’re extremely happy to have you here for the next six years,’ ” Rudolph said. “Right there I couldn’t thank him enough. Publicly, I can’t thank him, the Wilf family, everyone involved to keep me here for the next six years enough.”
The new contract is an extension worth $36.5 million over five seasons. Rudolph, who will make $960,000 this year, got a $6.5 million signing bonus, and $19.4 million of the deal is guaranteed.
With 15 touchdowns, a Pro Bowl honor in 2012 and a shiny trophy for being named the MVP of that all-star game, Rudolph already has accomplished a lot in his first three NFL seasons. But both he and the Vikings expect much bigger things from Rudolph, especially with the tight end-friendly Norv Turner calling the plays, in 2014 and beyond.
“He’s a heck of a football player, but he’s a pleaser,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He wants to buy into everything we’re doing. I think he really likes the direction of where things are going. And I like having those kind of guys on the team. I’m anticipating that he will continue to flourish, especially with Norv and [tight ends coach] Kevin Stefanski pushing him and getting him better.”
Rudolph, 24, is excited to play for Turner, who has turned talented tight ends into stars at pretty much every stop during his 30-year NFL coaching career, as Rudolph pointed out Monday. Tight ends such as Jay Novacek and Antonio Gates had some of their most productive seasons while playing for Turner, and Browns tight end Jordan Cameron had a breakout season a year ago when Turner was his offensive coordinator.
Rudolph caught 109 passes for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns his first three NFL seasons, including nine touchdowns during his 2012 Pro Bowl season.
He missed the final eight games of the 2013 season because of a fractured left foot and finished with only 30 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
But the Vikings see him as a player on the rise — and he likes the direction the organization is headed in, too.
“It’s awesome to know that I’ll be here for the next six years,” Rudolph said. “The direction that this organization is headed, with the changes that we’ve made so far, with the new coaching staff, the young players, the new stadium, the Super Bowl coming here in 2018. There’s so many positive things going on right now around here.”
For now, Rudolph said he has no plans to splurge on himself. No new house. No new truck. He’s fine with the ones he has. Instead, the first thing he plans to do is keep a promise to his high school strength coach by building a new weight room at Elder High in Cincinnati.
“We’re happy to have him. I’m happy for him,” Zimmer said. “He’s a good guy, and I like when good guys get rewarded.”
Rudolph, who was in the final year of his rookie contract, said negotiations with the Vikings started to pick up a couple of weeks ago. His agent, Brian Murphy, flew into the Twin Cities the day of the MLB All-Star Game and over the next two days started to build the framework of the deal with Spielman and Rob Brzezinski, the team’s vice president of football operations.
Joel Corry, a former agent who analyzes the business of the NFL for CBS Sports, said that Rudolph’s $36.5 million extension is similar to the one defensive end Everson Griffen received in that the Vikings are paying more for what they feel the players will do going forward, not their past performance.
“Rudolph’s deal illustrates that players are paid for their expected contributions or how the team thinks they will perform,” Corry said. “Only time will tell whether the deal is a good value for the Vikings.”
Sunday night, Rudolph put pen to paper to make that deal official.
Now he has to live up to it.
“No one is going to motivate me more than I motivate myself,” he said. “No one is going to have higher expectations than I have of myself. And that’s to be the best. I’m going to continue to go out there every day, work the way that I do to become the best tight end in this league.”