Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph doesn’t need a pay cut, he needs some help

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Kyle Rudolph
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Kyle Rudolph /

With the offseason in full swing and the 2019 NFL Draft coming in April, many are speculating that Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph may need to take a pay cut to stay with the team. Asking him to do such is just plain dumb.

Kyle Rudolph has been with the Vikings since 2012. In those eight seasons, he has become the Vikings’ all-time leader in receiving touchdowns as a tight end (41) and is second to only Steve Jordan (who played in Minnesota for 12 years) in yardage from that position.

Rudolph is 29 years old, has played in all 16 regular-season games since 2015, is a solid blocker with excellent hands and a six-foot-six, 265 lb. body.

In average yearly salary, Rudolph is ninth among active tight ends, making $7.3M a season, behind several at his position like the Packers’ Jimmy Graham, the Titans’ Delanie Walker, the Redskins’ Jordan Reed, and the Panthers’ Greg Olsen.

Jimmy Graham–who I may remind a few of, has a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers–came up with a 39.8 yard game average and 2 touchdowns in 2018. At age 32, Graham’s average salary is $10M a year.

Durability And Availability

Since 2015, Delanie Walker ($8.5M), has missed 19 games and last season played in one game, catching one ball for 4 yards. Jordan Reed ($9.35M), has missed 19 games since 2015, and Greg Olsen ($8.55M), has missed 15 games in the last two seasons, in which he has given Carolina’s anemic offense 44 catches and 482 yards.

Leave Kyle Rudolph alone. Leave him right where he is, and find him some help. He is not Rob Gronkowski, he is not Travis Kelce, and he is not Zach Ertz.

However, Rudolph has proven he is worth his contract. Did he have a great 2018 season? Not really. But with a complete failure at the offensive coordinator position, a scramble of out-matched veterans at the offensive line, Rudolph not only did his job in the trenches, but to the best of his ability, in the passing game.

That ability is not putting linebackers on skates, nor banging down the doors of the defense after the catch, but in providing numerous tough receptions in crucial situations and being available to your team no matter the play call.

Striking Out In The Draft

Since 2015, the Vikings’ have drafted four tight ends; MyCole Pruitt, David Morgan, Bucky Hodges, and Tyler Conklin. Only Morgan could block well, and let’s face it, you could write the number of receptions this entire group gave the Vikings on the head of a pin.

Meanwhile, during that time, the kid from Notre Dame, a finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2018, had 24 touchdowns with four different offensive coordinators and four different quarterbacks.

It does not take a genius to see that Kevin Stefanski, like George Edwards on the defensive side, is the Vikings’ offensive coordinator in name only. The executive decisions will be made by the elder statesmen in the Minnesota coaching room, namely Gary Kubiak and Mike Zimmer.

In 2015, Kubiak took a Denver Broncos offense made of mostly spare parts and won a Super Bowl with a conservative offensive gameplan and Denver’s aggressive yet opportunistic defense.

One aspect of that conservative offensive design was manufacturing 1,000 yards out of a platoon of tight ends named Owen Daniels, Vernon Davis, and Virgil Green. None truly shined, but all contributed.

In that time, over in Minnesota, Rudolph was doing it by himself. In 2015, Rhett Ellison and MyCole Pruitt gave the Vikings about 20 catches and 200 yards. In 2016, David Morgan and MyCole Pruitt exploded for a total of 2 receptions and 11 yards. That season, Rudolph muscled out 83 catches for 840 yards and 7 touchdowns and didn’t even make the Pro Bowl.

With picks 18, 50, 81 and 114 in the first four rounds, the Vikings may be tempted to grab a prospect from the tight end position. But if a proven athlete is not there, Rick Spielman should not gamble on another athlete that will only be used in “gadget plays”. He needs to contribute–in the passing game–in 2019.

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If Gary Kubiak (and Rick Dennison), have a strong say in that draft War Room, as well as in reassuring this team that they will be better than they were last year, they need to fully examine how their front office can help proven athletes like Kyle Rudolph play their most valuable football and not be the only option at their position.