Wide Left: Vikings need to find a way to keep Kyle Rudolph

Diehard fan Blair Anderson wants the Vikings to dig for quarters in the couch.
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Kyle Rudolph

The role that the Minnesota Vikings have played financially this season has been eerily similar to my financial wisdom during my college days. They made a big purchase a year ago that they probably shouldn’t have made. Then as soon as the bills came due, they started scrambling for money trying to pay for that while also trying to find some cash for the necessities of daily life.

For me, that involved digging around in couch cushions and trying to find quarters just so I could get another ill-advised 2-for-1 on a Thursday night. For the Vikings, it means restructuring everyone’s contract just so they can afford to have an offensive line. Necessities, man.

As the offseason has trudged on, the Vikings have magically found money to make improvements. They re-signed Anthony Barr to a monster contract and still had room to add Shamar Stephen and Josh Kline into the fold, but now they need to find a way to actually pay the players they just drafted two weeks ago. As that bill comes up, teams will usually have an awkward conversation with a veteran to try and free up some cash.

GM: Hey, bud. Can we talk?

Player: What’s up?

GM: Well, we’re broke.

Player: Maybe you shouldn’t have given me X dollars last year?

GM: About that…

Right about now, the Vikings are having that discussion with tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph has been synonymous with the Vikings over the past decade after being drafted in 2011 and ranks toward the top of franchise’s all-time receiving list in yards (9th), receptions (8th) and touchdowns (5th). He’s done so much for the team on the field that they put together a massive Walter Payton Man of The Year Campaign that highlighted his work at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital off of it.

It’s safe to say that Mr. Rudolph is a pretty good dude and if contracts were made on the sole purpose of that, he’d be a Viking for life. Unfortunately, the NFL is all about what’s best for business and since Rudolph’s play has dropped off the past couple of seasons, he’s about to become the purple version of Old Yeller.

Rudolph is just two years removed from his career year in 2016, where he caught 83 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns, but his numbers (57 rec., 532 yards, 8 TD) took a dive despite making his second career Pro Bowl in 2017. Last year, his numbers (64 rec., 634 yards, 4 TD) looked a little better, but take out a nine-catch, 122 yard, 2 TD explosion against the Detroit Lions (and even then take out a Hail Mary in there), it doesn’t look great.

Perhaps the Vikings were thinking the same thing, because they used a second-round pick on tight end Irv Smith Jr. The Alabama product can be used as a giant chess piece within the offense, but many believe that Smith will eventually supplant Rudolph as soon as next year when the 30-year-old’s contract expires.

Hence is why the Vikings would like to either sign Rudolph to an extension or come to terms on a restructure for 2019, where he is due roughly $7.2 million against the salary cap. While that number can buy a whole lot of Grain Belt Premium, the Vikings would rather use some of that money for wiggle room so they’re not completely pressed against the cap.

With not much money to go around, the offer the Vikings put together must not have been flattering, because Rudolph has cut off negotiations with the team. Although he has said he doesn’t want to be traded, the two sides have come to a stalemate with Rudolph wanting a firm answer by the time the Vikings report for OTAs this weekend.

So what should the Vikings do? Should they wait it out and see if Rudolph’s good teammate aura shows up for work? Or do they be proactive, clear the $7 million off the books and see if New England can make him the second coming of Rob Gronkowski? Actually, they should come to a compromise.

Rudolph is not going to confuse anyone for one of the more athletic tight ends in the league, but he does serve a purpose. Last year, Rudolph actually had the highest catch rate of his career, catching 78 percent of his targets and without him in the mix, you’re looking at replacing him at a position that typically requires a year or two for young players to make a real impact.

It won’t be easy, but Rob Brzezinski has pulled bigger rabbits out of his hat before and as the guy I wish managed my checking account in college, I think the two sides should be up to the task of figuring it out.

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