EAGAN, Minn. (FOX 9) - A simple hashtag on Twitter from Kyle Rudolph late Monday night solidified his future with the Minnesota Vikings.
“Unfinished business.” A few months of uncertainty, trade speculation and the possibility that his NFL future might not stay in Minnesota was all resolved as Rudolph agreed to terms with the Vikings on a contract extension. The deal is reportedly four years and worth about $36 million. It will also help the team with its salary cap moving forward this season.
Rudolph is all about family and football. Agreeing to the new contract assures he’s not going anywhere. That’s what mattered to him the most.
“My family wanted to be here, this organization wanted us here and we were going to find a way to make that work. I’m fired up to have the groundwork laid to keep me here for the foreseeable future,” Rudolph said.
It also likely keeps Rudolph with the Vikings for his entire NFL career. He was a second round draft pick in 2011, the No. 43 overall choice. If he serves the entirety of the contract, he’ll tie Jim Kleinsasser for spending 13 seasons with the Vikings. Rudolph is entering his ninth season with the Vikings, but used a golf term during offseason workouts when talking about how he felt from a physical standpoint.
“I don’t feel like I’ve hit the back nine yet,” Rudolph said.
He’s just one part of an offseason that included several Vikings players either restructuring contracts or taking less money to stay in Minnesota. Anthony Barr was set to join the New York Jets, then had a change of heart and came back. Everson Griffen took a reduced salary after the Vikings helped him with mental health issues last season. Eric Kendricks restructured his contract to help the Vikings with their thin salary cap situation.
There’s a culture and a chemistry in the Vikings’ locker room that only they can describe, and it doesn’t happen in every NFL organization.
“It’s because of the culture that they’ve established around here, and culture is what ultimately brings championships. The talent level is so even all across 32 teams, if you don’t have good culture, then you don’t have a chance,” Rudolph said.
Mike Zimmer is happy to have his top tight end in Vikings’ purple for another five years. He said Monday he was never really worried about Rudolph’s situation. He was under contract and figured something would get done at some point.
It’s how team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf operate. When they have a player they want to keep, they find a way to get it done.
“I’ve bumped into a few people in the last week or so and that was probably the No. 1 question I got. How’s Kyle? Is Kyle going to be here? All this. Everyone one of them, I said ‘Yeah’ and they were all glad,” Zimmer said. “That’s kind of the guy he is in the community and how he represents the Vikings.”
Rudolph’s track record on the field pretty much speaks for itself. He’s started all 16 regular season games the last four seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2017, and was the game’s MVP in 2012. His best statistical year thus far came in 2016. He had 83 catches on 132 targets for 840 yards and seven touchdowns.
Last season, he finished with 64 catches for nearly 10 yards per catch, and had four touchdowns. He ranks fifth in career touchdown catches for the Vikings with 41, and is second among tight ends with 386 career catches.
It was in the best interest of the Vikings’ front office to keep one of their veteran leaders in the locker room, especially when you consider Rudolph’s commitment to charity in the Twin Cities.
“I know we’re here in this business to win football games, but a lot of times it goes beyond that. The type of players we have here and another prime example of Kyle Rudolph of doing more for this community that being just a great football player for us,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said.
Spielman gave the Vikings flexibility at tight end this season by drafting Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama in the second round. The choice fueled some speculation that Rudolph might be on his way out of Minnesota, but the new offense the Vikings are working on involves utilizing multiple tight ends.
What’s Rudolph’s biggest motivation? In his words, “Bringing a championship to the state of Minnesota.” It still burns Rudolph that the Vikings got to the NFC title game after a 13-3 season in 2017 and the “Minneapolis Miracle,” then fell flat in a 38-7 loss at Philadelphia.
“That’s my only goal, I want to be the first team to win a championship here and we got a taste of it two years ago. When we got close, you had a feel for how important that would be to this state, this community, this fan base,” Rudolph said. “As important as it is for us to win it for us, it’s equally as important to win it for this community and this state because they deserve it.”
He wants a championship, and he didn’t want to uproot his family. Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, are active in charity work with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. They also have young twin daughters.
He’s a two-time nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He had no interest in testing free agency, no interest in getting more money. He wanted to be a Viking.
“This is home for us, that played a big part in it. It’s about being here in the state of Minnesota, playing for this team, being in a color purple that I love and that I’m comfortable in and having my family here in this community,” Rudolph said.