Kyle Rudolph has been a fixture in the Minnesota Vikings locker room for the last decade, but it looks like his time in purple might be coming to an end. He told Ben Leber on the former linebacker’s podcast “Unrestricted” that he would not be taking a restructured deal this offseason.
The 31-year-old tight end is set to make $9.45 million next season, with less than half ($4.35) of that money in guarantees. The Vikings, who are $12.8 million over the cap, would free up $5.1 million by releasing the veteran tight end.
Rudolph’s departure would be a long-term positive. In a season where the salary cap will go down, they will have to free up money to sign their draft picks and add free agents. To gain some form of cap flexibility, they will need to get rid of overpaid veterans who have non-guaranteed money.
While they will most miss his leadership and philanthropy, they can replace him on the field.
We got to see three different two tight end sets when Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. were injured. Here is the average per-game production of each combination:
- Smith/Conklin (four games): 7.5 rec, 88 yards
- Smith/Rudolph (nine games): 3.25 rec, 38 yards
- Rudolph/Conklin (three games): 5 rec, 52 yards
The final four games of the season where Smith and Conklin started because of Rudolph’s Lisfranc sprain yielded impressive results:
- Week 14: 9 rec, 103 yards, TD
- Week 15: 6 rec, 94 yards, TD
- Week 16: 10 rec, 84 yards, 2 TDs
- Week 17: 5 rec, 70 yards
Smith and Conklin both outproduced what they did with Rudolph during these final weeks. Tight ends evolve to be more quick and elusive, so a traditional slower possession tight end like Rudolph could see himself phased out.
These two tight ends will need more snaps to prove themselves while on cheaper deals to succeed. Conklin and Smith also provide an element to the offense that Rudolph lacks: speed. Both can run tight end screens off of fakes to the running back where they can get behind their blockers and work in space.
Rudolph also saw his red-zone targets decrease when Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook and Irv Smith Jr. became more of the focal point near the end zone. And Rudolph has seen a reduced amount of snaps as Smith has improved.
In a regular offseason where the salary cap increases, most teams would look to keep a player who has served the franchise and community so well over his 10-year career. But the Vikings need to create cap space, and Rudolph might be a casualty.