Vikings Free Agent Alternatives for Kyle Rudolph

The Vikings Have One Tradeable Asset
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

A reunion between the Vikings and the veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph is getting more likely. On KFAN, he talked with Paul Allen about a return to the Vikings. He said he would love to come back and wants to win a Super Bowl with the organization. Yesterday a tweet surfaced about the Vikings and Rudolph. The purple team is apparently interested in a reunion as well.

The Vikings certainly could use another tight end in the mix. Irv Smith, the starter, missed the entire 2021 season on injured reserve after meniscus surgery. His backups are blocking tight ends Johnny Mundt and Ben Ellefson. The Vikings also have two young players, 2021 fourth-rounder Zach Davidson, a raw project, and 2022 seventh-rounder Nick Muse.

A reliable veteran backup is what the team needs. Rudolph could fill that role perfectly. He isn’t the most athletic guy; he never was. Getting older doesn’t make that any better. However, his hands are remarkable. Rudolph never drops a pass, and he could be another weapon in the red zone with his 6’6″ body.

The Vikings aren’t the only team interested, as the Buccaneers are in the mix, too. He makes sense there because of Rob Gronkowski´s retirement. The chance of winning a Super Bowl will also be bigger for Rudolph if he signs with the team led by Tom Brady. But there are some alternative free agents available that fit the description of a reliable veteran backup and insurance for the Vikings.

Jimmy Graham

Dec 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Jimmy Graham. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports.

Once one of the most feared athletes on the football field, Graham is now close to the end of his career. He could still do some damage as a backup tight end for the Vikings with their strong skill position players.

A 2010 first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints, he had his best years with Drew Brees. In 2013, he was a member of the first team All-Pro, and he is a five-time Pro Bowler. Between 2011 and 2013, the tight end averaged almost 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns per season.

Graham will turn 36 in November but would still be useful as a backup for Smith. With a height of 6’7″, he is a matchup nightmare in the endzone. Graham played all of the last four seasons in the NFC North, two with the Packers, followed by two with the Bears. In those four years, the veteran averaged over 400 yards and four touchdowns per season.

Eric Ebron

Sep 14, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports.

Another free agent tight end with experience in the NFC North and playing against the Vikings, Ebron was the Detroit Lions’ first-round pick in the 2014 draft. A few picks later, Aaron Donald went to the Rams. Ebron never lived up to the hype. He was a solid tight end but couldn’t reach stardom, which is absolutely necessary for any tight end drafted in the first round.

In the four years in Detroit, Ebron recorded 2,070 yards and eleven touchdowns – solid but nothing special. He moved on to play for the Indianapolis Colts in a time split with Jack Doyle. Ebron somehow transformed his game and became a red zone threat. In the two seasons in Indy, Ebron scored 16 touchdowns, paired with over 1,100 yards despite playing just 27 games.

The veteran was once again on the move and landed in Pittsburgh. He had one solid campaign with 558 yards and five touchdowns. Then the Steelers selected Pat Freiermuth, who quickly earned the starting rights.

His numbers plummeted, and he didn’t even record 100 yards. However, just one year removed from a 500 yards season, he could provide great value for the Vikings. Ebron turned 29 years old earlier in the offseason.

Jared Cook

Dec 26, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Chargers tight end Jared Cook. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

After a quick look at a younger tight end, Cook is already 35 years old. Like Graham, he’s long past his prime. No matter the age, Cook had a great season last year as a weapon in Justin Herbert’s offense and scored four touchdowns to go along with over 500 yards. He would be another great free agent addition for the Vikings as an alternative to Rudolph.

He cracked 500 yards in five consecutive seasons. The last time he didn’t get there, he played, just like the other tight ends, in the NFC North. He had one of his worst statistical seasons there, with 377 yards and one score. Cook’s average NFL season is 556 yards and 4.5 touchdowns, which is almost similar to his 2021 output.

He can still play at a very high level and is almost too good to be just a backup. However, no offense ever has enough weapons. Two phenomenal outside receivers, Thielen and Jefferson, and two excellent tight ends, Smith and Cook, would be a great combination. Also, the Vikings have another dynamic Cook, Dalvin Cook, in the backfield and a great WR3, K.J. Osborn. Kevin O’Connell certainly would have a lot of fun designing the offensive game plan with that many weapons.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. He chose the Vikings as his favorite team, despite Christian Ponder being the quarterback at the time. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt

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