This morning the Minnesota Vikings officially announced tight end Kyle Rudolph will be staying with the team for the next five years after signing an extension. The news comes after weeks of deliberation between Vikings officials and Rudolph’s agents, who at one point seemed at a standstill. Yet despite listening to trade offers, the Minnesota Vikings are keeping Kyle Rudolph in 2019 and potentially beyond. The four-year extension adds on to the one year remaining on Rudolph’s old contract, meaning the veteran tight end is now signed through the 2023 season.
As of now, only some of the details of Rudolph’s contract are clear. Multiple sources have confirmed that the extension is a four-year deal that will pay Rudolph $36 million dollars if he remains on the team through it all. This would put Rudolph in the top five highest paid tight ends in the league in terms of per year averages, with an average value of $9 million a season. Again, he is signed through the age of 34, if he plays out the full contract. That, however, is a big if.
What is less clear is how much of that money is guaranteed to Kyle Rudolph. With less guaranteed money comes more flexibility for the team to move on from him in future years, meaning he may not receive the total $36 million figure. According to Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune, Rudolph has a fully guaranteed salary this year, and his 2020 salary is only guaranteed in the case of injury. If true, this effectively means Rick Spielman and the Vikings front office have a yearly option to cut Rudolph in the offseason to regain cap space. If Irv Smith Jr. develops into a top tight end or Rudolph declines in production, the team can easily move on with few repercussions.
Even less clear is how the Rudolph extension affects the 2019 cap for the Minnesota Vikings. The team is currently close to the salary cap, and still needs to free up some space to sign practice squad players, extend players, or just generally have breathing room during the season to sign injury replacements. Rudolph himself confirmed that his extension will lower his cap number for the 2019 season, which would imply that his salary has been lowered. This conflicts with previous reporting that suggested his salary was raised along with the guarantees. What seems most likely is that Rudolph will receive some of his guaranteed money through a signing bonus, which gives him the money now while spreading the cap hit out across his deal. For example, if a $5 million signing bonus is part of the reported $9 million he is receiving this year, his cap hit would be reduced by $4 million. That is more than enough money for the Vikings to go into the 2019 season with a comfortable cushion.
In total, this is a happy conclusion to the Kyle Rudolph saga. Like Anthony Barr, Rudolph probably could have maximized his value in free agency, or he could have demanded a trade after the draft. But he had no interest in doing so, “because of the culture that they’ve established” in Minnesota, Rudolph told reporters today. He will now stay in the place he calls home for him and his family, he proves his worth as a top tight end with lots of game left, and the team retains a top talent and leader on their franchise while keeping their options open in future years. Truly a win for all parties, including the Minnesota community, before training camp opens.