Analysis

Kyle Rudolph Got Paid, But Is He A ‘Money’ Player?

It's not about money, it's about crunch time.

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Vikings’ tight end Kyle Rudolph recently signed a four-year contract extension worth 36 million dollars, giving him a fully guaranteed 2019 salary of $9M. Is he really worth anywhere near that kind of money?

Kyle Rudolph is easy to like. He stands six foot six, has big, reliable receiving hands, and nearly won the NFL’s Man-of-the-Year award for his off-the-field charity work in 2018.

Minnesota has been good to and for Kyle Rudolph, and he clearly loves the place, tweeting in the off-season that he was “humbled beyond words” that he and his family called Minnesota their home.

That’s nice. Like I said, it’s easy to like Rudolph, But this is football. 

I hope I don’t qualify as a “hater” if I say that there is a limited amount of cash to go around for this team and nine million dollars a year is a lot of money to give to one tight end.

A quick look over the NFL’s tight end salaries of this season may show strong math in justifying Rudolph’s current contract–and some stringent argument against it. Rudolph has the numbers of incredibly overpaid players like Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed, but yet couldn’t do the laundry of ends like Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.

  1. Jimmy Graham (Green Bay): $10M    (2018 stats: 55/636/2 TD)
  2. Travis Kelce (Kansas City): $9.3M    (103/1336/10)
  3. Jordan Reed (Washington)$9.3M       (54/558/2)
  4. Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota): $9M         (64/634/4)
  5. Greg Olsen (Carolina): $8.5M             (27/291/4)
  6. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia): $8.5M         (116/1163/8)

Guts And Glory

Hold up.  Let’s speak more figuratively about “money”.

To date, the best tight ends in the NFL–guys like the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski and the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce–have made careers of making plays for their teams in the most crucial times. Look no further than Gronk’s diving catch late in last year’s Super Bowl to set up New England’s go-ahead touchdown. With two guys climbing over him, Gronkowski was targeted–and came through.  

This kind of a play from a guy whose body was so battered he called it quits from football just months later.

So, meaning no disrespect to Rudolph, is it fair to examine some of the most important Viking games in the Mike Zimmer era and how this tight end has performed?

In 2015, in Zimmer’s first playoff appearance as coach of Minnesota, Rudolph had one catch against Seattle in a game that ended 10-9.

In 2017, Rudolph had one catch in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was in the first drive and made the game 7-0 in favor of Minnesota.

For the rest of the game, Rudolph had no more catches, even as the Vikings were forced to pass throughout and eventually lost 38-7.

In week 17 of 2018, against the Chicago Bears, a home game in which a victory would have sent the Vikings to the playoffs, Rudy had 4 catches for 19 yards, a less than five yard average. The Vikings were embarrassed 24-10, and their season was over.

To date, Kyle Rudolph now has three catches in the first two games of the 2019 season. The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce has given Patrick Mahommes 10 catches for 187 yards in the same time frame.  Philly’s Zach Ertz; 13 for 126.

What is even more compelling in this is the result of the game the Vikings just played in Lambeau Field, where Rudolph’s quarterback needed all the help he could get to win. 

Rudolph gave him nine yards.

Kyle Rudolph is a superb teammate and a man to be admired. And there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would do anything in his power to bring a championship to his beloved Minnesota. But significant NFL salaries should translate to crucial game performances, shouldn’t they?

Kyle Rudolph is a great guy. A great big guy. I’d just like to see him be bigger in big games.

For 9 million dollars a year, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

 

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8 Comments

  1. This is a very good piece, Mike and a legitimate question to ask. But I would submit that it can’t all be laid at Rudy’s wallet. I would to targets factored as well when comparing him to others. He has to have the chance to contribute, and I know of at least one time on Sunday where he was wide open and his QB never looked at him. I don’t know these numbers, regarding targets, but I don’t think he gets as many as guys like Gronk, Kelce and Ertz do (did)

  2. There is no question about Rudolph’s off the field contribution to the community and being a stand up guy. Conceding that, this article is about whether or not he’s a ‘money’ player. While he has spectacular hands and a stellar catching radius, I think RT Bryan O’Neill would beat him running a forty yard dash. Greitzer accurately points out the lack of production in big games. I’m glad we have him THIS year, so as to help Irv Smith Jr. come up to speed. My issue is that FOR NEXT YEAR, I think he’s poor value at a time, where $9 million likely means losing CB Trae Waynes or Mackensie Alexander. For my money, I would rather MUCH retain Mackensie Alexander than keep Kyle Rudolph. Yes, I know the Stefanski/Kubiak O runs a lot of 2 TE sets, but at $9 mil per year, I’d pass on him NEXT year.. I’m not sure how much of his salary is guaranteed, but I’d rather keep a young CB and let Rudolph go. Great guy, poor value.

  3. IUVikes1 It looks like there is about $15 million in dead cap money over the remainder of the contract if they were to part ways with Rudy.

  4. Thanks Joe!! Sadly, that just puts an exclamation point on the poor value, as it kills our cap space next year even if we were to cut him. Not good when the contracts will be up on Harris, Alexander, and Waynes, players I think would better contribute to the Vikings success in 2020. I’ve liked most of Spielman’s moves in retaining our own players. This is just not one of them.

  5. I don’t know that the Vikings value Rudolph as a pure pass catcher. Not sure if anyone has noticed, but he’s been a mauler in the run game so far this season. He’s setting the edge for Calvin Cook and getting to the second level and making key blocks there. I think or at least hope the Vikings factored that in when they extended his contract. We all know the Vikings Oline needs all the help it can get. He makes catches when given the opportunity, but it doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t get many targets, especially when they have one of the best wr duos in the game.

  6. Sorry Elmo, but Rudy’s a wreck of a blocker. He’s terrible in pass pro and often whiffs in the open field.

    The Vikes were fools to use a 2nd round pick on his replacement and commit $15m to Rudy. It will cost this team 2 key defenders in exchange for a non descript player.

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