EAGAN — The Minnesota Vikings still aren’t out of the salary cap woods yet.
While they created enough space to sign first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury by restructuring linebacker Eric Kendricks’ contract, they are just above the cap now and will need additional space before hitting the field in September.
“You can’t go into the season with a half-million dollars of cap room,” former NFL agent Joel Corry told The Scoop podcast. “When you make the conversion when the first regular season is it switches from top 51 to everything counting, that would be practice squad, anybody on IR or PUP and that can be anywhere from a $3 to $5 million shift in cap space.”
The Vikings have options, including restructuring other players’ deals in a similar fashion to Kendricks by converting base salary into bonuses. But that can cause more cap issues down the road. For Corry, the most obvious solution is a move involving tight end Kyle Rudolph.
“What makes the most sense is Kyle Rudolph taking a pay cut,” Corry said. “If you can’t trade him, you pick up the $7.625 million by releasing him.”
On Wednesday at Vikings OTAs, Rudolph acknowledged that the Vikings offered a five-year contract extension but NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport reported last week that talks between the two sides broke down.
“That’s what they’re working at,” Rudolph said. “We’re in a tough situation. Everybody knows that. That’s why we have the best salary-cap guy in the NFL and I believe I have one of the best agents. So, like I said, they’re working really hard.”
The Scoop host Darren Wolfson said on Wednesday’s SKOR North Live show that he’s been told the team would move Rudolph in a trade if they could get a third-round pick in return.
. @DWolfsonKSTP says the Vikings would be open to moving Kyle Rudolph but they have to get at least a third-round pick
— Matthew Coller (@MatthewColler) May 22, 2019
“If you’re really motivated to trade him, you won’t save the whole $7.625 million but sometimes in a trade the team will convert some portion of the salary into signing bonus pre-trade to lower the amount that the acquiring team is taking on,” Corry said.
Rudolph said that he is aware of teams that are interested in trading for him.
While he also told the media that he would be open to a restructure, that button hasn’t been pushed yet. According to the Star Tribune the Vikings could save up to $6.3 million if they converted remaining salary to signing bonus.
Say the Vikings gave Kyle Rudolph a league-minimum $930K base salary in 2019, converted the remaining $6.345M of his salary to a signing bonus and kept his bonuses ($250K roster, $100K workout) intact. Same amount of cash for Rudolph, with ~$5M in cap saving for Vikings.
— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) May 22, 2019
There is plenty of time before training camp to work out a resolution between the two sides but the deeper we go into the offseason the more there appears to be an impasse between the Vikings and their Pro Bowl tight end. Rudolph has made it clear that he believes there’s plenty left in the tank, so that would lead us to surmise that any type of five-year deal that was actually a two-year deal would not be attractive to him.
The longer this goes along the more an option to hold out of training camp comes into play. It’s unclear whether Rudolph would sit out rather than play on the final year of his deal and plan to hit free agency next season but on a team that saw Teddy Bridgewater’s career nearly come to an end during camp, there might be some hesitancy to take any risk with no guarantees past 2019.
The Vikings have to be cautious with their cap situation, which won’t become any less messy next year with both Adam Thielen and Anthony Barr’s new contracts taking big jumps in cap hit next year. But cutting or trading Rudolph is dicey too because it puts a great deal of pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins and rookie tight end Irv Smith, who would be asked to fill the space of a tight end who routinely catches between 60-80 passes per year.
Cousins said on Wednesday that he thinks having both Rudolph and Smith in the game at once offers a big advantage for the Vikings offense.
“Having Irv Smith and Kyle on the field at the same [time], I think it’s a win for us,” Cousins said. “I think that Kyle has done so many good things for so long and so to have him out there is a great sense of comfort. When you add Irv’s youth and athleticism that is a great plus. You have five eligible on every play no matter how you cut it, you have five players that are eligible. You want to get the best five and the right mix and the right match. You just try to get the best players you can out there, whether it is receivers, tight ends, running backs. But do something that is going to put pressure on the defense. And I do think having Kyle and Irv out there as a combination should be able to do that.”
Rudolph’s situation is unusual during the Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota. Players like Xavier Rhodes, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks have signed deals well before their contracts were set to run out and there was very little conversation about contract status.
Linebacker Anthony Barr did miss part of OTAs last season while waiting for insurance paperwork in case a new contract didn’t get done. He played 2019 on the final year of his deal, hit the free agent market and ultimately returned to the Vikings. Because of his age, we may see Rudolph put more pressure on the team for a new contract or a trade to a team that will sign him to a long-term deal.