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Quick Takes: Vikings need to part ways with Rudolph, Twins upgrade at short, Wild coach isn’t helping star players

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 29, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) catches a pass during the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Rudolph didn’t like how he was used by the Vikings this season, the Twins go on the defensive with their latest free agent signing and Wild coach Dean Evason continues to repeat the same mistake. Let’s examine each of these topics.

  • Item: There has been an assumption that Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph will be released or asked to restructure his contract (and take a pay cut) after the veteran had only 28 catches for 334 yards and a career-low one touchdown in 12 games this season. Rudolph has three years left on his deal and the Vikings would gain $5.1 million in salary-cap room if they release him this March. Rudolph, appearing on former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber’s podcast, said he can see both sides of the issue but then expressed dissatisfaction with how he has been used and added “I think I’m worth every dime of my contract.” ESPN’s Courtney Cronin has the complete story right here.
  • Reaction: If there was any doubt about whether the 31-year-old Rudolph had played his last game for the Vikings, that should be gone. There is case to be made that the Vikings need to utilize certain players on their offense more in 2021, starting with wide receiver Justin Jefferson, but Rudolph doesn’t enter into that conversation and if he really wants to be a bigger part of the passing game, it’s going to need to be with a different team. Rudolph, a second-round pick in 2011 by the Vikings, isn’t even near the top of the tight end depth chart in Minnesota anymore. Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin, a younger and better version of Rudolph, both proved they are worthy of more playing time next season. Rudolph expressed disappointment with the fact he was asked to do so much blocking before he was injured late last season, but that’s where he’s most valuable. Rudolph’s interview with Leber was a good one because it showed how he really feels about his role on the team. And those feelings mean that a divorce from the Vikings is necessary.
  • Item: The Twins agree to a one-year, $10.5 million contract with shortstop Andrelton Simmons and will move Jorge Polanco to second base and make Luis Arraez their super-utility player.
  • Reaction: The Twins took an important step toward improving their defense by signing Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove winner. Two years ago, the left side of the infield was suspect with Miguel Sano at third and Jorge Polanco at short. Now, that side of the infield could be one of the best in baseball with Josh Donaldson and Simmons. The key, obviously, is that both stay healthy and that can’t be assumed with Donaldson’s first season in Minnesota having been short-circuited by calf problems and Simmons having dealt with an ankle injury in 2020. The Twins will move Polanco from shortstop to second base (he was never a true long-term solution at short) and Luis Arraez will take over Marwin Gonzalez’s super-utility role. While this should help Twins’ pitchers, something else that helps is offense and one has to wonder if this signing will impact the team’s ability to retain designated hitter Nelson Cruz. If the Twins can keep Cruz and obtain another starting pitcher, this offseason will have been a success.
  • Item: The Wild continue to play Joel Eriksson Ek at center with wingers Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno.
  • Reaction: This one has me baffled. The Wild has tried Nick Bonino, Nick Bjugstad and Victor Rask as the center on their top two lines, playing with standout wingers Kevin Fiala or Kirill Kaprizov. None of them have had a significant impact because they are not top two centers. Eriksson Ek, who leads the Wild with four goals and scored his team’s only goal in a 2-1 loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, has been left on what amounts to the third line because coach Dean Evason doesn’t want to break up a productive unit. That was fine when the Wild started the season by winning four of their first five games, but now that the team has lost back-to-back games it’s becoming more and more maddening to see Fiala and Kaprizov both having to play with third or fourth line centers. Those two are your best forwards and at least one of them deserves to play with your best center. That’s Eriksson Ek. The switch isn’t that difficult. Fiala and Kaprizov are left-hand shots who can play the right wing, so put Eriksson Ek in the middle of Greenway and Fiala or Kaprizov and see what happens. Foligno is a hard-working winger who is going to give you a good effort no matter where he lands. The change should be made for the Wild’s rematch with the Kings on Thursday.