EAGAN — Kyle Rudolph’s offseason of seeing his name in the headlines is in the past and the Vikings tight end could not be more thrilled.
“I think the biggest thing I’m relieved of is I won’t be your guys’ headlines for the rest of the summer,” Rudolph said Tuesday during a press conference at TCO Performance Center. “I’m not used to being that guy. I apologize – now you’ll have to have something else to write about the rest of the summer. I’m certainly excited that this is behind us.”
The subject of trade speculation in recent months as the Vikings’ dealt with salary-cap issues, Rudolph heard rumors that he could be headed to New England, he read speculation that he could be released and he had to answer questions in April when the Vikings drafted his possible replacement, tight end Irv Smith Jr., in the second round. The 29-year-old Rudolph — a second-round pick of the Vikings in 2011 — openly discussed the fact the Vikings were talking to him about a new contract but nothing was official until Rudolph tweeted Monday night about the fact he would be staying in Minnesota.
Rudolph, who caught 64 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns in 2018, reportedly received a four-year, $36 million extension that, according to Pro Football Talk, will give him $9.25 million fully guaranteed. The total guarantee, according to PFT, is $16.25 million (full guarantee, plus injury guarantee). The agreement has no guarantees after 2020, but Rudolph did just fine for himself in 2019. PFT reported he will get $1.625 million more than the money he was already set to make this season and that included a base salary of $7.25 million. His salary in 2020 of $7.375 million is guaranteed for injury.
What the Vikings get will be much-needed and immediate salary-cap relief for 2019. Rudolph’s contract had been set to count $7.625 million against the Vikings’ cap — he was entering the last season of the deal — and Minnesota went into Monday with only $611,926 in cap room.
One more note on this deal from late last night: my understanding is it clears about $4 million in 2019 cap space for the #Vikings, who have been tight. So they keep the player and get some short-term flexibility too. https://t.co/VZhGfxMfLt
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 11, 2019
“I can just focus on football and being a leader of this team and doing everything I can to make sure that we’re the first,” Rudolph said. “That’s my only goal. I want to be a part of the first team to win a championship here. We got a taste of it two years ago. When we got close, you had a feel for how important that would be to this state, to this community, to this fanbase. Certainly to every player and employee of this organization.”
Rudolph wasn’t willing to take whatever the Vikings offered him in a restructured contract, but he and his family also had little desire to explore free agency after this season. Thus, he was the perfect candidate for the Vikings to approach about redoing his deal.
“I want to be a part of this organization,” Rudolph said. “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, and now nine years in and under contract through my 13th year, I hope I’m the same way.
“It’s important for us, although maybe we left a little bit of money on the table by not going to free agency, I don’t care about that. It’s about being here in the state of Minnesota, playing for this team, being in a color purple that I love and I’m comfortable in, and having my family here in this community.”
Where Rudolph had the Vikings in a bit of a corner was he knew they needed him. Smith might develop into a good player but could he be relied on to be the clear-cut top tight end in Gary Kubiak’s offense? The Vikings’ new assistant head coach and offensive advisor wants two productive tight ends in his offense and without Rudolph it was questionable if quarterback Kirk Cousins would have that.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he never really considered the fact that Rudolph could be leaving. “Not really,” he said. “I mean, there were times when I knew he’s under a contract. I figured all along it would get done somehow or he would be here one way or the other. I never really feared it, no.”
Rudolph, who along with his wife, Jordan, have established strong ties in the Twin Cities community, echoed the same thought. “No, not at all,” he said when asked about being moved. “Throughout this whole process, rumors are spread. But my wife, Jordan, and I knew all along we were going to end up back here. … I’m excited it’s behind me.”