Rudolph & Fusco Highlight Contract Year Concerns

16 games of football, and maybe even a post-season appearance, can change the way we look at the makeup of a roster and the value of an individual player.  With that being said, as I glance towards what drama might be in store for next offseason, Rick Spielman doesn’t appear to have many paramount decisions waiting for him on the horizon.

Most of the current players that are set to see their contracts expire after this season were signed (or re-signed) this offseason to one year deals.  The hope is that they will produce quite nicely and be worthy of another contract next offseason, but they really won’t be priorities until that production actually happens.

The players of note that will see their contracts expire after this season are headlined by the following:

  • LB Larry Dean
  • TE Chase Ford
  • OL Brandon Fusco
  • LS Cullen Loeffler
  • QB Christian Ponder
  • DB Mistral Raymond
  • TE Kyle Rudolph
  • DB Jamarca Sanford

There are high hopes for a number of the players on this list, but as it sits right now most of them appear expendable, outside of two young offensive starters that the Vikings will likely want to retain.

When Brandon Fusco came out of the small school that is Slippery Rock University he was touted as an inexperienced and raw player with a mean streak.  After having his fair share of struggles, which are to be expected from a player if they truly are “raw,” he has developed into a solid contributor to the offensive line.  As Arif recently pointed out, Pro Football Focus called Fusco this team’s “secret superstar” and have him graded as the NFL’s third best right guard.

The Vikings have invested high dollars into center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt.  The contract of first round selection Matt Kalil is manageable at the moment, but he will eventually need to be extended if he lives up to expectations, and the Vikings are setting themselves up for a very expensive offensive line.  Outside of concerns about over-investing in the offensive line, if concerns of that nature are even at all valid, there are no reasons not to expect an extension for Fusco.

Assuming Ponder doesn’t resurrect his career in some profound way, the most high-profile contract fans will concern themselves with this coming season is that of Rudolph’s.  Rudolph’s third season was cut short by a broken foot and he is hoping to have a true breakout year with his contract due to expire.

Rudolph is an interesting case because he is widely regarded as a talent that could produce like an elite NFL tight end.  The highlight of his career so far has been the nine touchdowns scored in 2012, but he has otherwise been unable to reach the potential everyone believes is there.  The perception of his value could be further complicated by how well others, like Chase Ford and John Carlson, were able to perform in his absence.

The key for Rudolph as he enters this crucial season is to prove that he can stay healthy and that Norv Turner’s offense will only help take him to the next level.  I really do believe that play design, injury, and quarterback play has been the only thing holding back Rudolph in his first three years.  Assuming there will be at least some improvement in all three of those areas this season I think he could be in line for a very big year.

Rudolph is probably the most likely candidate for an in-season extension, but certainly should be the highest priority.  If Spielman can lock up both him and Fusco with minimal drama then the 2015 offseason will already be heading down a successful avenue.