EAGAN (FOX 9) - Kyle Rudolph arrived to the Minnesota Vikings team facility last week for offseason conditioning with an interesting message across his chest.
“Lots of Game Left.” Rudolph is in an interesting spot with the Vikings. He’s a seasoned veteran entering his ninth season in Minnesota, but he’s also just 29 years old. He’ll turn 30 in November, the day before the Vikings head to face the Dallas Cowboys for Sunday Night Football.
In an offensive team meeting last week, Rudolph made it very clear he feels like he’s in the prime of his career.
“I joked around in the offensive team meeting room, We all had to stand up and introduce ourselves, and I said contrary to popular belief I didn’t play in the Metrodome when it had astroturf,” Rudolph said. “A lot of people think I was here when it had astroturf. I’m still in my 20s, I’m still young. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been in my career.”
Rudolph is taking a chip on his shoulder into the upcoming season. He said it’s assumed he’s old simply because he’s been with the Vikings nine years.
It could be a message he’s sending to the coaching staff and the front office as it prepares for the NFL Draft on Thursday. One of the positions the Vikings are looking at is tight end, especially if the draft pick can help in the run-blocking game.
“I have a lot of game left. Most people don’t know I’m 29 years old, they just assume I’m old because I’ve been here for a long time,” Rudolph said.
He went so far as to use a golf analogy, after spending the weekend before offseason condition at The Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga. He said he feels like “I haven’t hit the back nine yet.”
The numbers would agree with what Rudolph is saying. He’s started every regular season game for the Vikings the past four seasons. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2017 and made a career-high 83 catches on 132 targets in 2016 and scored seven touchdowns.
He made the second-most catches of his career last season with 64, scoring four touchdowns and averaging 9.9 yards per catch in his first season with Kirk Cousins.
Rudolph and his wife, Jordyn, are also active in the Twin Cities community when it comes to charity. Rudolph was named the Vikings’ 2018 Man of the Year for his work with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
The elephant in the room with Rudolph is his current contract situation. He’s due to make more than $7.6 million against the Vikings’ salary cap in 2018. He’s also due to become an unrestricted free agent next season, unless Minnesota can work out a restructured contract to both keep him in Minnesota and reduce the hit on the team’s salary cap.
Rudolph has made it clear on multiple occasions that he would be willing to take a reduced salary with the Vikings if it meant adding talent to the roster. He also said the Vikings’ front office has not spoken with him, yet, or his agent about his contract.
“I would love to help our cap situation. If I can give us more room to bring in more players and better players, you’d be foolish to turn down something like that,” Rudolph said. “It doesn’t make sense from a player’s standpoint, but that’s out of my control. That’s between Rick (Spielman), Rob (Brezezinski) and my agent. I just come here to work every day and just try to find out where I fit in.”
If he does work out an agreement to stay in Minnesota, he would be one of a few recent veterans to do so. Everson Griffen returned to the Vikings on a restructured contract after missing five games last season to address mental health issues. Anthony Barr was set to join the New York Jets in free agency, but made a last-minute decision to return to Minnesota.
Rudolph is one of several veterans in the locker room looking to build a culture as the team bonds away from the field, which to them is just as important as taking the field on game day.
“Guys want to be here, guys want to play for this team. It speaks to the culture in our locker room,” Rudolph said.
But make no mistake, Rudolph has “Lots of Game Left.” The Vikings will need it after missing the NFC Playoffs one year removed from playing in the NFC title game.