Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' longest tenured player, was released Tuesday in a move that provides financial relief to a salary cap-strapped team.
The 31-year-old tight end played 10 seasons with the Vikings and now will seek a more impactful role on another team in free agency.
The move was an expected step for the Vikings, as Rudolph publicly expressed his desire for a change after spending much of 2020 in a blocking role; he was also public with his opposition to negotiations about restructuring his contract.
The Vikings will save about $5 million in salary cap space by moving on from Rudolph, who leaves with franchise records in touchdown catches (48) and consecutive regular-season games started (93) for a tight end. He had 453 receptions, fifth all-time in team history.
Rudolph was scheduled to count $9.45 million against the 2021 salary cap with no guaranteed money left on a deal through 2023. General Manager Rick Spielman, who is scheduled to talk to local reporters Wednesday, will need to clear even more space before the 2021 league year begins March 17.
"While I understand that a lot of the news today is going to focus on me and the team parting ways, I'd personally rather focus on the flip side," Rudolph said in a Players' Tribune article published to coincide with the Vikings' announcement. "The fact that me and the Vikings stayed together for 10 whole seasons, an insane run in today's NFL. I mean, we made it to a third contract with each other. That's rare. I got to be the longest-tenured player in literally the entire organization."
In 2020, Rudolph led Vikings tight ends with 572 snaps, but he finished with a career-low one touchdown and had only 28 catches. Rudolph and the Vikings agreed to a four-year, $36 million extension in June 2019, but he faded into the background as a pass catcher. Tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin played well in December, when Rudolph suffered a Lisfranc sprain and missed the final four games.
As a longtime team captain and three-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, Rudolph leaves an indelible mark in the Twin Cities after arriving as a 2011 second-round pick from Notre Dame. The Rudolph family, including his wife, Jordan, and their three children, intend to remain in Minnesota and involved in the community for the long haul, even as Rudolph's career is rerouted.
"Kyle has been a leader and mentor for us on and off the field from the first day I arrived in Minnesota," coach Mike Zimmer said in a statement. "He has been such an important part of this team and community throughout his career, and it has been an honor to coach him the last seven seasons."
In his last comments to local reporters, Rudolph said in December he expected to be with the Vikings through the rest of his contract. That changed in January, when he said on Ben Leber's "Unrestricted" podcast he was bracing for a potential move understanding the Vikings' financial situation and leaguewide revenue shortfalls. He also said he wants to go somewhere he can catch more passes.
"A lot of these contracts that were signed over the last few years, they were all signed assuming the cap would go up like $10 million as it has every year for the last 10 years," Rudolph said. "I certainly get it. I understand. With that being said, I think I'm worth every dime of my contract. That doesn't mean I'm used to my potential or what I do well."
Fourteen months after catching a touchdown pass in overtime to win a playoff game at New Orleans, Rudolph embarks into unrestricted free agency for the first time ahead of his 11th NFL season.
"I'm really excited about whatever is around the corner," Rudolph said via the Players' Tribune. "I have a lot of good football still to play — and the fire inside of me to win a Super Bowl is burning as strong as ever. That's the one big goal I have left. But it's still just football. Minnesota, on the other hand, it's so much bigger than that. It's where our future is. It's where our heart is. It's home. Thanks again, Vikings fans, for everything. We'll see you around."