Less than 24 hours after the Minnesota Vikings announced the emotional departure of Kyle Rudolph from the roster, the rumor mill speculating his new home commenced. The keynote characteristic of Rudolph’s skill set is catching the football, so there will be a robust market for his services. He may not be the fastest tight end or one prone to breaking tackles, but he does catch the damn ball. That acumen will keep the 31-year-old employed longer than others at the position.
Preliminary, semi-credible landing spots are two AFC teams – the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) March 3, 2021
Yes, it early to spitball where Rudolph is headed. But this is the NFL, and the newsfeed never stalls.
New England Patriots
A stop in the Northeast for Rudolph is scintillating for a few reasons.
Foremost, the general public has no idea who will be the quarterback of the 2021 New England Patriots. It could be Cam Newton, the team may trade for someone like Teddy Bridgewater or Marcus Mariota, or they might draft a rookie to play Week 1.
In all of those scenarios, a non-superstar quarterback tends to rely on underneath completions within an offense. Rudolph provides that.
Then, the Patriots have no clear-cut weapons that Rudolph would battle for playing time. Hell, Rudolph would be a big deal and upgrade to most of New England’s existing weapons. Give him 80-100 targets and watch those legendarily sticky hands make an impact.
And, of course, Rudolph would pair with Bill Belichick – who is a God among men for coaches. Rudolph was long-rumored to join the Patriots with Belichick in years past, but that was when Tom Brady ran the show. Getting in bed with Belichick, though, does not seem like a dumb idea no matter the quarterback.
If the Browns do not release current tight end David Njoku, there is probably a pathway for Rudolph-to-Cleveland to shake out. Should Njoku remain in The Land, well, the TE room is way too damn crowded. Rudolph would get fewer targets there than with the Vikings – the whole reason he decided to leave Minnesota.
But he should be fairly cheap. With no Njoku, Rudolph could aptly split TE targets with Austin Hooper and provide Baker Mayfield a cogent security blanket during the young quarterback’s fourth season.
Somehow – the Browns became a hotspot destination for free-agent chatter and trade talk. It’s very odd. For three decades, nobody wanted anything to do with Cleveland outside of LeBron James in a different sport. Now, Cleveland is peppered into landing-spot lists and rumors as if it’s second nature.
Good for them – Kevin Stefanski is doing his thing.
The Patriots and Browns account for 6.4% of all NFL teams not named the Vikings. These are merely the early frontrunners for Rudolph’s future plans. Several other teams make sense for a union with the Notre Dame Alumnus: Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or Arizona Cardinals.
Those are the less-realistic spots. It is more probable that he would join a franchise like the Cincinnati Bengals due to his hometown proximity and the amount that Cincinnati throws the football. Rudolph also has the backdoor connection to general manager George Paton in Denver. The Broncos employ Noah Fant at tight end. If utilized alongside Fant, Rudolph could reasonably expect to see TE2 targets in Denver. Too, the Broncos offensive coordinator is Pat Shurmur – the leader of the 2017 Vikings offense. You know the team – the one that visited the NFC Championship.
In theory, Rudolph could also explore an abode in Green Bay or Chicago. But he doesn’t seem like the “stick it to them” type of player that might be necessary to join a former divisional foe. When the news hit of his Minnesota farewell, he penned a thoughtful article in The Players Tribune about his gratitude to the state of Minnesota and his desire to remain a Minnesotan.
It would be incongruent to proclaim one’s self a tried and true Minnesotan – and then go play for the Packers.