The Minnesota Vikings need to make a move to create cap space in order to sign their first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport, they won’t be finding that extra space by signing tight end Kyle Rudolph to a contract extension.
Rapaport reported Friday that talks between the Vikings and Rudolph “broke off” and that a trade could be coming. Rudolph is set to make $7.5 million this year with zero dead cap space. According to Rapaport there is interest around the league.
The #Vikings had held active extension talks with veteran TE Kyle Rudolph, but those broke off this morning, sources say. With Minnesota drafting TE Irv Smith and Rudolph due $7.5M, this development could lead to a trade elsewhere. There is interest around the NFL.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 10, 2019
While the Vikings’ options to create space are limited, dealing Rudolph, presumably for a draft pick, would bring along significant risk. The two-time Pro Bowler has been one of the most consistent receiving tight ends in the league since he came into the NFL in 2011.
Over his career, Vikings quarterbacks have a 109.0 rating when targeted Rudolph. Last season Kirk Cousins completed 84.2 percent of passes in Rudolph’s direction and registered a 113.5 rating (per Pro Football Focus). The 29-year-old tight end has also only dropped two passes in the last two seasons. He’s also played in every game over the last four years.
That type of production isn’t easy to replace.
The Vikings drafted tight end Irv Smith in the second round and appear to expect him to contribute immediately but rookie tight ends have often struggled to make a quick transition to the NFL. Last year top tight end Hayden Hurst grabbed only 13 passes. Miami rookie Mike Gesicki had 22 receptions. Over the past 15 years, only two rookie tight ends have gained more than 600 yards receiving.
Head coach Mike Zimmer did say he expects Smith to make a quicker transition because of his usage at Alabama.
“A lot of times — not so much for Alabama — these guys line up as wide receivers in college and that’s always a bigger adjustment,” Zimmer said. “We’re fortunate enough that Irv was able to line up in a normal tight end spot, he lined up in the backfield, he lined up wide as well. I think his transition will probably be a little bit quicker.”
While Rudolph has never been one of the elite run blocking tight ends in the NFL, ranking 59th of 81 tight ends in PFF blocking grade last season, he does have experience matching up with the NFL’s best defensive ends and linebackers as opposed to Smith, whose blocking was talked about as his biggest weakness in college.
Last year’s rookie crop only saw two tight ends — Jordan Aikens of Houston and Dallas Goedert of Philadelphila — score above average blocking grades by PFF metrics. Three other rookies — Jordan Thomas, Ian Thomas and Gesicki — had three of the four worst blocking grades.
The Vikings have two other young tight ends on the roster in Tyler Conklin, a fifth-round pick in 2018, and blocking specialist David Morgan. They combined for 10 receptions last season.
There are already question marks across the Vikings’ depth chart on offense. It is unclear whether Laquon Treadwell will be the team’s No. 3 receiver or if they will rely on an inexperienced player like Chad Beebe, Brandon Zylstra or draft picks Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson to play an immediate role. If nobody steps up, Cousins wil lbe in the same position as he was last year: Relying solely on Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
If the Vikings keep Rudolph and find another way to create space, the Vikings can mix and match around their veteran tight end, potentially using Smith as a fullback or slot receiver at times. Without Rudolph, the pressure would be immense on the rookie. That isn’t exactly the position any team wants to be in with a win-now team.