Note: This article originally appeared on our flagship site, vikingsterritory.com
The Minnesota Vikings and tight end Kyle Rudolph closed a chapter on Tuesday – one that spanned a full decade. The Vikings released Rudolph, saving $5 million in cap space in 2021. The 10-year veteran can now sign anywhere in the NFL.
Rudolph, 31, was drafted by the Vikings with the 43rd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He tallied 48 touchdowns during his career with Minnesota, fourth-most among tight ends in the timeframe. Only Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Travis Kelce scored more touchdowns as a tight end amid the last ten seasons.
More impressively, one-fourth of all Rudolph’s scores transpired in the fourth quarter or overtime of games when the score margin was within one score. Most folks call that clutch.
The Notre Dame alumnus will exit Minnesota in search of a new franchise. If history is a reasonable indicator, Rudolph has a handful of seasons to produce at a high level – if he is targeted within an offense. The primary reason for his exodus in Minnesota involved money. Rudolph was slated to be the league’s fifth-highest-paid tight end in the business [per average annual salary] on a team that already has a coveted young tight end with Irv Smith Jr. Rudolph was not on the docket to receive gobs of targets in 2021, as evidenced by his 37 targets in 12 games last year.
So, Rudolph needs a home. These are the destinations [in order of ascending likelihood] that make the most sense as of now.
New England Patriots
Rudolph was a “popular” name on the trade block when Vikings loyalists tossed phantom scenarios into the rumor atmosphere – probably because it was long theorized that Smith Jr. would take the big job. The time is now.
One of those landing spots was the New England Patriots. Now that can officially happen sans trade rumor. Of course, Tom Brady is not the signal-caller anymore, but the Patriots are starved for pass-catching assets. And make no mistake, Rudolph is a pass-catching asset.
New England – no matter the quarterback – could be a venue where Rudolph is targeted as a TE1, a role he craves.
Cue the “ties to Kevin Stefanski.”
Stefanski left his post as offensive coordinator for the Vikings to lead the Cleveland Browns as head coach last offseason. Behind Baker Mayfield, Stefanski’s offense is rapidly maturing into the franchise’s best in over 30 years.
Tight end David Njoku’s future in Cleveland is uncertain. The team also employs Austin Hooper. If Stefanski and Rudolph are pals, Browns management could conceivably forge a path to reunite the two. It would give Mayfield target options like Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and then Hooper and Rudolph.
Not a bad little setup.
Kansas City Chiefs
Credible rumors state that Rudolph nearly joined the Kansas City Chiefs before the 2020 season. In Missouri, Rudolph would be paired with a top-flight offense piloted by Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. The Chiefs always have a piecemealed group of “other” pass-catchers that seem to get the job done. Well, Rudolph would instantly jell with Mahomes just as competently as the “others.”
2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes adores trustworthy catchers of the football. Rudolph is precisely that. Too, as Rudolph developed with the Vikings, he became an astute downfield blocking commodity. Super Bowl LV showed the world that Kansas City will take all the blocking it can get.
If Rudolph is chasing championships, don’t be surprised if he has a chat with Chiefs brass.
Paging General Manager George Paton.
Rudolph-to-Denver has “ties” as well. This offseason, long-time Rick Spielman disciple, George Paton, bolted from Minnesota to lead the Broncos’ front office. John Elway allegedly took a full step back from football operations, handing Paton the torch.
Paton should know Rudolph more than any other executive on the planet not named Spielman. The Broncos have an ultra-promising tight end in Noah Fant, but after that, it’s slim pickings. The quarterback in Denver – whoever that may be in 2021 – would rely on Fant-Rudolph while the star-studded wide receiving corps of Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy steer the passing game. What a lineup.
This one is “Rudolph goes home.”
He is from Cincinnati and played adjacent collegiate ball at Notre Dame. The Bengals will welcome back second-year quarterback Joe Burrow – a passer that threw the ball an unusually high amount before his 2020 injury. If Cincinnati still wants to throw the ball that profusely, sign Rudolph on the dotted line. After all, the man wants his targets.
On head coach Zac Taylor’s team, Rudolph would find three items: 1) A team that evidently wants to pass the football 2) Playing football in his hometown 3) Joining a franchise with an upward prognosis via Burrow at the helm.