At the beginning of the 2011 offseason, the Vikings new they had one year left before they would face a major crossroads with all of their veteran tight ends.

They started to address the issue by cutting long time utility man Jeff Dugan and drafting the best tight end prospect in the 2011 Draft, Kyle Rudolph.  There were even some rumors that the Vikings attempted, at one point, to agree to an extension with Visanthe Shiancoe but nothing ever came to fruition.

Now, with the 2011 season nearly over and Rudolph looking like a solid draft choice, the Vikings still have to figure out if Visanthe Shiancoe or Jim Kleinsasser figure into their plans moving forward, as both veterans are set to become unrestricted free agents.

The 31 year old Shiancoe had decent campaigns with the Vikings in 2008 and 2009, but has steadily been on the decline since then, partly due to nagging injuries.  Through thirteen weeks this season he has 36 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns.  Shiancoe has started 11 games this season.  His career highs came in 2008 when he was good for 596 receiving yards and in 2009 when he caught 11 touchdowns.

Jimmy Kleinsasser, at age 34, may opt for retirement but that is a decision that has not been discussed with the media at all.  He very well could plan on playing for another five seasons.  Kleinsasser has pretty much been phased out of the passing game these days, with only one catch for four yards this season, but remains one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.  It is easily a factual statement to say that every offensive tackle the Vikings have had over the last 13 seasons have been made to look better than they were by the presence of Kleinsasser on the end of the line.

With both set to be free agents, and both getting up there in age, one could assume the Vikings will let them both leave with hopes of finding youthful talent to join Rudolph in the new generation of Vikings tight ends.

On the other hand, the Vikings already have so many needs as it is, adding tight end to the mix of free agency and draft needs could simply be too much.

So, armchair G.M.’s out there, I pose this question to you:

UPDATE:  I guess great minds think alike.  1500 ESPN literally just posted this article about Kleinsasser’s situation, and hinted that if the Vikings don’t offer him a contract he is likely to hang up his cleats for good.