It’s looking more likely tight end Kyle Rudolph may have to accept a hometown discount this offseason or get traded or released by the Vikings.
Contract negotiations, which could lower Rudolph’s $7.625 million salary for the cap-strapped Vikings, were tabled Friday, a league source confirmed to the Star Tribune, fueling trade speculation and noting a disparity between the Vikings and Rudolph over his worth. NFL Media first reported the development.
Ahead of Rudolph’s contract season, general manager Rick Spielman drafted Irv Smith Jr. in the NFL Draft’s second round, making for a potential trade or release of Rudolph if the sides can’t agree on a new deal to keep him in Minnesota. Spielman discussed ways the Vikings can use both Rudolph and Smith Jr., but that doesn’t guarantee anything from a business standpoint.
The Vikings sit with the least salary cap space ($765,473) in the NFL, according to the NFLPA, with top draft pick Garrett Bradbury still to get under contract. Some move to clear space is necessary to sign Bradbury.
Rudolph, 29, was confident in March about a long-term extension from the Vikings, saying “I know what I’m worth as a player. They know what I’m worth as a player. When you agree, that’s a good thing.”
But at that time, Rudolph had not yet heard from the Vikings about an extension. Those talks began over the past few weeks, and now fizzled as Rudolph is set to be the NFL’s fifth-highest paid tight end this season — none currently guaranteed.
Rudolph, a 2011 second-round pick out of Notre Dame, is the Vikings’ second-longest tenured player behind Everson Griffen. He’s started more games (104) than any Vikings player since he was drafted. His 41 touchdown catches rank fourth among all tight ends in that span.
The Vikings sought a younger, faster option for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Smith Jr., the 20-year-old son of former Saints tight end Irv Smith, was a versatile blocker and downfield receiver for Alabama.
If Rudolph is traded, Smith Jr.’s lane is cleared to become the featured tight end in this Vikings system, which is expected to lean more on two-tight end personnel groupings. Tight end David Morgan is also entering his final season under contract.
A handful of NFL teams make possible trade partners for Rudolph. None more appealing than the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. New England recently signed veteran Benjamin Watson, but still has a big void to fill with Rob Gronkowkski’s retirement. The Bills also lost its starting tight end, Charles Clay, in free agency and could be looking for a weapon to help its young quarterback Josh Allen.