NFL Network reported last Friday that extension talks between the veteran tight end and the Vikings were tabled after the two sides could not come to an agreement. Rudolph carries a $7.625 million cap hit in 2019, which is more than the Vikings can afford to pay him with their current salary-cap restrictions.
According to the NFL Players Association’s public salary-cap report, Minnesota has $738,054 in cap room. The Vikings have yet to sign their first-round pick, center Garrett Bradbury; to do so, the team will need to free up cap space by restructuring contracts or releasing players.
Speculation over Rudolph being traded or cut by the Vikings has been swirling since before the NFL draft, but it hasn’t deterred the Pro Bowl tight end from moving forward with his team.
“I can’t focus on that a whole lot,” Rudolph said at a charity golf event Monday. “I’m at voluntary workouts every day, like I’ve always been. I’m not going to change my approach to this football team and what this organization means to me. My focus each and every day is just getting better as a player, and when I’m better as a player, that’ll help this team be better, that’ll help this offense be better.
“It’s very evident that if we want to get to where we want to be, we have to get better on the offensive side of the football. As a leader of this offense, as a guy who’s been around here a long time, that’s me getting better in my game individually. That’s my focus right now and until I hear otherwise, that’s all I can worry about.”
Rudolph showed up to the first day of Minnesota’s offseason program on April 15 donning a sweatshirt with the statement “Lots of Game Left,” and he later spoke about wanting to further prove his abilities entering his ninth season in the NFL. A week later, the Vikings drafted former Alabama tight end Irv Smith with the 50th overall pick, which led to more conjecture that Rudolph’s days in Minnesota might be numbered.
“I’ve stated it many of times: My family, myself, we want to be here and we’re going to do everything we can to be here,” Rudolph said. “But that doesn’t mean if the alternative happens and we do get traded — change happens. We’ve been so fortunate to be in one place for eight years that you don’t realize how many guys change teams on a yearly basis. Obviously, that’s not what we’re hoping for. We’ve been very fortunate to be in one place going on nine years and this is home for us, it’s going to be home for us and that’s the way we want it to be.”
Prior to the inaugural Mike Zimmer Golf Classic on Monday, where Rudolph and several teammates participated in the charity scramble, the veteran tight end said he worked with Smith for the first time and supports the belief that the Vikings offense can be more explosive with the use of multiple tight ends on the field at the same time.
“He’s a good player,” Rudolph said of Smith. “… I had talked to [general manager] Rick [Spielman] about it and I’m completely on board with the philosophy of you have to take the best player, and he was the best player available at that time. I think he can help our offense.
“The term ‘mismatch’ gets thrown around a lot and being in 11 personnel, having three wide receivers, you can be a pass-catching tight end and you’re not necessarily creating mismatches because there’s not an extra DB on the field. For us, to have both of us on the field at the same time, that’s how you create mismatches and that’s how teams have kind of dictated things with defenses. When we have two tight ends on the field, we can dictate the tempo, the play, we have control, not the defense.”
Rudolph reiterated that he wants to finish his career in Minnesota and is hopeful that talks over a contract restructure will reopen. He hopes to know his status of where he’ll be playing in 2019 as soon as possible.
“I don’t want to be dealing with this come OTAs, minicamp, training camp, so the sooner the better,” Rudolph said. “And I think that’s for both parties. I think the Vikings want clarity, I think we want clarity. So, yeah, sooner the better. Last week would’ve been great, too. Obviously, it’s a difficult situation so there’s a lot of complex things that go into it and that takes time. It’s not an easy cut. They like me, I like them, we want to stay here. It’s just not the way it works.”
Mike Zimmer, who has spent the last five years as Rudolph’s coach, remains optimistic that the tight end will be in Minnesota this season.
“I’ve had conversations with Kyle and quite honestly, I really love all my players,” Zimmer said. “We expect Kyle to be here. Sometimes business gets in the way, but we’re not here to talk about that today.”