The Minnesota Vikings simply do not let their best players leave.
On the evening before the Vikings opened minicamp at TCO Performance Center, Kyle Rudolph announced a contract extension on Twitter, writing: “I am honored beyond words to say that my home, our home, will always be in Minnesota.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the deal is four years, $36 million. The contract will lower the Vikings cap hit by $4 million this year and include around $9 million guaranteed, per the Star Tribune.
“Kyle’s number one a great teammate, really good person,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said on Tuesday. “I’ve bumped into a few people in the last week or so and that was probably the number one question I got, ‘How’s Kyle?, Kyle going to be here?’ And every one of them when I said, ‘Yeah, were all glad.’ That’s the kind of guy he is in the community and how he represents the Vikings.”
Rudolph’s contract was set to expire after this season and his name had been floated during the NFL draft as a potential trade candidate. The Vikings’ selection of Irv Smith in the second round fueled the conversation about dealing the veteran to create the cap space the Vikings will need in order to enter the 2019 season. Instead a new deal will open the cap space and the 2019 offense will have more weapons than last year for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
While there might be concerns about Rudolph’s age and some criticisms of his game, the bottom line on the Vikings’ Pro Bowl tight end is that he has been one of the most reliable players in the NFL. He’s played all 16 games over the past three seasons and ranked third, ninth and seventh in receptions among tight ends. Last season Cousins posted a 113.5 rating when targeting Rudolph.
If the Vikings new offense under Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski moved away from emphasizing the tight end, it might have made sense to move on. But according to a Mile High Report study in 2016, Kubiak’s offenses have targeted tight ends 23 percent of the time over his career as an offensive coordinator and head coach. Last season Rudolph received 16.5 percent of targets, so the combination of Rudolph and Smith will likely be vital to the Vikings offensive success.
It would have been incredibly risky to hand the role over to Smith, who will turn 21 years old on August 9. Rookie tight ends tend to have their ups and downs and struggle to become all-around players right away. Last year three of the four worst blocking tight ends in the NFL by Pro Football Focus grades were rookies. Now Smith can have a chance to made a difference as an extra weapon that can be used in the backfield, as a wide receiver and in multiple tight end sets. His impact will be the domino effect of Rudolph staying.
“We’re going to try to use a lot of different tight end formations but I think the skill set of all those guys, including Tyler Conklin, will help us a lot,” Zimmer said.
As for his age, the Vikings aren’t in a position to be overly concerned about the future. The moment they signed Cousins to an $84 million deal, it was clear Minnesota was in Super Bowl mode. Most of the Vikings core star players are getting up in age. Players like Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph aren’t likely to have many more years of top-notch seasons ahead.
The Vikings need Rudolph now.
From the team perspective, Rudolph becomes the latest of many purple players to sign deals to stick around. This offseason saw Anthony Barr return, Griffen restructure his contract and Adam Thielen sign a long-term deal. It’s clear this group wants to take another swing at a championship together and the Vikings front office is giving them that chance. It would have been harder if the Vikings had to replace one of the league’s 10 best tight ends.
As far as how long he will play, Rudolph is aiming to follow in the footsteps of former Chief and Falcon Tony Gonzalez.
“I feel better now from a physical standpoint now at 29 than I did at 21,” he said. “You just learn how to take care of your body, you know what your body needs throughout the course of an offseason to become a better football player, but to also prepare yourself for that season. You learn week by week in season what your body needs to be ready to play on Sundays. I joked about it in the opening press conference this offseason, something about the golf analogy of not being on the back nine yet. Tony Gonzalez played for 17 years, and he set the pole. I’m going to try and play as long as I can.”