First comes the trade report. Then the front office denial. The player waits in a holding pattern. It’s an NFL offseason tradition.
This time, the report came from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the former NFL Media insider who over the weekend deployed a flare for the whole league to see on behalf of the Vikings. The S.O.S. message read: “The Vikings are going into Day 3 of the draft open to, but not actively shopping, deals for their more expensive veteran players. They’ve gotten calls on TE Kyle Rudolph and CBs Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Stay tuned.”
The Vikings need some cap relief, as the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling has detailed at length, and one way is by being “open to” dealing “expensive veteran players.”
General manager Rick Spielman responded “no, not really,” when asked whether the Vikings fielded such calls following a 12-man draft class, near the top of which is second-round tight end Irv Smith Jr. After a deal failed to materialize over the weekend, Spielman was more dismissive when broached with the topic of trading Rudolph.
“You guys are really great at stirring a lot of stuff up out there,” Spielman said this week during a SiriusXM interview. “You make my press conferences interesting.”
The Vikings general manager was asked how Rudolph and Smith Jr. can complement each other on the field.
“Thank you, yeah, they’re two different types of players,” Spielman told SiriusXM radio. “With [Gary] Kubiak and [Kevin] Stefanski’s offense, one thing we felt is we didn’t have a player like an Irv Smith Jr. — a lot smaller from the standard that Kyle is. Kyle is an on-the-line Y [tight end]. Irv, you see him play H-back, you see him play fullback, you see him split out in the slot. And how can you create mismatches with defenses now?
“All of a sudden, he’s in the slot and Kyle’s on the line of scrimmage. They’re going to have to defend one or the other, and then if you put our two receivers out there with them, it makes defenses try to pick their poison.”
But the ball is in the Vikings’ court. Spielman can keep Rudolph and realize this vision. Or, if the right offer comes along, the Vikings sound open to tight end David Morgan playing an on-the-line role in this scenario. Trading Rudolph, who since early March has made his desire publicly known to restructure his contract if that’s what keeps his family in Minnesota, would clear more than $7 million in cap space.
So, which NFL teams make sense as trade partners? The five listed below each reportedly have more than $10 million in cap space and a need at tight end. Four spots would send him to the AFC.
New England Patriots: Rudolph’s most obvious landing place outside of Minnesota is New England, where the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement and did not draft a tight end last week. Rudolph, who is fourth among all TEs with 41 touchdowns since the 2011 draft, would be a good fit for a franchise trying to maximize the remaining years of quarterback Tom Brady.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Former Vikings coordinator John DeFilippo, now in Jacksonville, might not be the best fit for Rudolph (who saw a career-long touchdown drought last season with JDF calling plays). But the Jaguars need a go-to weapon for new quarterback Nick Foles. They could use Rudolph, even after spending a third-round pick on tight end Josh Oliver.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills really need a proven target for quarterback Josh Allen. Buffalo’s former tight end, Charles Clay, is now in Arizona and the current fix is third-round draftee Dawson Knox (96th overall). Perhaps it’d make sense for the Bills, with north of $30 million in cap space this season, to add a veteran to the mix.
Oakland Raiders: Oakland added a host of weapons around quarterback Derek Carr, from trading for receiver Antonio Brown to drafting running back Josh Jacobs in the first round. The skill position not really addressed is tight end, where Jared Cook left in free agency. The Raiders did add a fourth-round tight end, but Oakland is another team with cap space and no proven star at the position.
New York Giants: How about reuniting Rudolph with the coach who saw him catch the most touchdowns (8) since his 2012 season? Giants coach Pat Shurmur got the most out of Rudolph in the red zone when he was the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2017. The Giants currently have just four tight ends on the roster, including Rudolph’s former teammate Rhett Ellison.
Honorable mention: Another NFC East team, the Dallas Cowboys, would also make sense. However, the Cowboys have premiere players to consider paying between quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper; all three have contracts expiring after 2019 or 2020.