MINNEAPOLIS - Kyle Rudolph wants to play his entire NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings and wants to bring a Super Bowl to the state, but that decision might not ultimately be up to him.
In his first public comments this week since the 2020 season ended, Rudolph was candid and honest that he might have played his final season with the Vikings. In a podcast called "Unrestricted," hosted by former Vikings linebacker and current analyst Ben Leber, Rudolph said he won’t take a pay cut for the 2021 season if Minnesota comes to him seeking to restructure his contract.
Rudolph is two years into a four-year, $36 million deal. His current salary for 2021 would go for more than $9.4 million against the team’s salary cap. He’s played 10 NFL seasons, all with the Vikings. If he doesn’t restructure, they could cut him or try to trade him.
He played in 12 games in 2020, missing the last four with a nagging toe injury. He finished with a career-low one touchdown, the third-fewest catches in his career at 28 and 334 yards, the fourth-lowest in his 10 years.
"If I were the Wilfs, if I were Rick (Spielman), I’m looking at this situation like ‘Hey, we’re paying this guy a lot of money and you’re not using him. So why are we continuing to pay him a lot of money? I certainly get it, I understand," Rudolph told Leber. "With that being said, I think I’m worth every dime of my contract. That doesn’t mean that I’m used to my potential and that I’m used to do what I do well, so it will be interesting over the next few months."
Before the 2020 season, Rudolph had played in 16 games five straight seasons and was consistently used in the offense from 2015 to 2018. He had seven touchdowns in 2016, and eight in 2017 on the way to a Pro Bowl selection.
But his role changed drastically in 2020. With the emergence of 2019 draft pick Irv Smith Jr., and Tyler Conklin showing steady improvement, Rudolph was asked to be primarily a blocking tight end. That’s both to protect Kirk Cousins, and to open lanes for Dalvin Cook. He told Leber he wasn’t happy about it, but accepted the role after leaning on Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez for advice.
"I’ve somehow become a pretty decent blocker because I’ve been forced to, it certainly wasn’t something that I did well at any point in my career. Early on last season, the writing was on the wall. I saw where our offense was going, I had like 7 or 8 catches in the first six games. It was just absurd, I was literally blocking all the time," Rudolph said. "I’ve got one of two things here, I can get really good at the only thing I’m asked to do, or I can complain about it and cause a scene and throw a fit. What’s going to be more productive for our team and for this organization? I think I’m more than capable as a pass catcher, and I don’t get to do it anymore quite honestly. So the only reason that I’m still around and still do the things that I do is all I want to do is win a championship."
Despite being clearly unhappy with his new role, Rudolph chose to accept it and be a good teammate. In his 10 years, he’s been a consummate professional with the Vikings. He’s a fan-favorite, and away from football, has developed community relationships through his charity work with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
He said he’s had multiple opportunities in the past to leave in free agency, but wants his three kids to grow up in Minnesota and go to school locally. He also wants to own a home on Lake Minnetonka when his eventual retirement comes.
He wants to bring a Super Bowl to Minnesota, but he doesn’t want to be a blocker to get there. He wants to be involved in the offense. If the Vikings come asking for a restructure, his time with the team likely ends after 10 years. His tone with Leber suggested as much.
"This is home for us, we’re in Minnesota for life. If it was up to me, I would never leave," Rudolph said.