As he reflected Tuesday on the new contract that could take him into a second decade with the Vikings, tight end Kyle Rudolph shared a story from a player few of his teammates could count as a contemporary.
“Nine years ago, a guy by the name of Jim Kleinsasser — who was in his 13th year here in Minnesota — talked to me about how, throughout his career, he had a couple opportunities to make more money elsewhere, but he stayed here, because of this organization and because of the state of Minnesota,” Rudolph said. “Now, nine years in, and under contract through my 13th year, I hope I’m the same way.”
It remains to be seen how far Rudolph will play into the four-year, $36 million extension he signed as the Vikings’ mandatory minicamp kicked off Tuesday. His deal, according to an NFL source, guarantees him $9.25 million in cash for this season, and includes a $7.375 million salary that’s guaranteed for injury in 2020.
Though Rudolph received a $1.625 million raise for 2019, the deal lowered his cap number for 2019 by $4.175 million, giving him a $7.25 million signing bonus (which hits the cap over the next five seasons) in addition to a $1.75 million base salary and up to $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses for 2019. With no fully guaranteed money in the deal beyond this season, however, there remains the possibility the Vikings could still decide to move on from the tight end after 2019.
Still, the contract gives Rudolph — who’s third among NFL tight ends in both receptions and touchdowns since 2015 — the chance to further his career in Minnesota if he continues to prove his value. The chance to continue playing with the Vikings, Rudolph said, outweighed any thoughts he had about moving to another team.
“It’s not easy, with the [salary cap] situation we have right now as a team, to find a way to get this done, but they did it,” Rudolph said. “Throughout this entire process, the only thing that mattered was, at the end of the day, I’m here. My family wanted to be here, this organization wanted us here and we were going to find a way to make that work. I’m fired up to have the groundwork laid to keep me here for the foreseeable future.”
While Rudolph’s deal helps the Vikings out of their salary cap straits — the team had just $611,926 of available cap space before signing the 29-year-old tight end — it also means they’ll have both rookie Irv Smith and him this season, in an offense that could use multiple tight ends more frequently than it did last year.
“Usually, when you line up with three tight ends, the defense constricts, or gets bigger guys in there,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “With the guys we have, we can still open up formations and use them as wide receivers, per se.”
Rudolph’s contract negotiations played out after the Vikings selected Smith, sometimes in a public fashion, and the tight end sounded almost sheepish Tuesday about how much time he’d spent in the news because of his contract status this spring.
His status for at least 2019 is secure, however, and he’s hoping he’ll be in Minnesota for much longer than that.
“I feel better now, from a physical standpoint, at 29 than I did at 21,” he said. “Tony Gonzalez played for 17 years, and he set the pole. I’m going to try to play as long as I can.”