MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have released veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph after 10 seasons, the team announced on Tuesday.
The move saves Minnesota $5.1 million against the salary cap for 2021. Rudolph, 31, will become a free agent for the first time in his NFL career.
The former second-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2011 issued a heartfelt goodbye in a story published by The Players’ Tribune reflecting on his 10 seasons in Minnesota.
“I got so lucky, because — I didn’t just get drafted by some team who ‘had a need at tight end,’ Rudolph wrote. “I didn’t just get drafted as, like, the nameless, faceless ‘#1 tight end on the board.’ I got drafted by a team that was all set in terms of need … but then drafted me anyway.
“I’ll always remember that: how the Minnesota Vikings wanted me — and wanted to bet on my potential.”
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman weighed in on Rudolph’s release in a statement, calling him “one of the premier tight ends in the NFL and most influential and positive leaders I’ve ever been around.”
“Kyle and [his wife] Jordan have made such an immeasurable impact on our team and community that may never be matched,” Spielman said. “The energy they have invested in the community, most notably through the End Zone at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, is truly remarkable. I admire Kyle and we will miss him and his family. We sincerely wish them the best.”
Rudolph had three years remaining on the contract he signed in June 2019 after the Vikings approached him to restructure his deal via an extension. He was in danger of being a cap casualty this offseason with a $9.45 million cap hit and a role that has decreased considerably in the Vikings’ offense over the past two seasons.
Rudolph spoke earlier this offseason about his desire for a bigger role in Minnesota’s offense or elsewhere and said he would not be open to a restructure if the team approached him about taking a pay cut.
“I think I’m worth every dime of my contract,” Rudolph said on the podcast “Unrestricted with Ben Leber” in January. “That doesn’t mean that I’m used to my potential and I’m used to do what I do well, so it will be interesting over the next few months. Like I said, I have three years left on my contract. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’ve somehow become a pretty decent blocker because I’ve been forced to. It certainly wasn’t something that I ever did well at any point of my career. Maybe in high school because I was bigger than everyone else, but even then, I just wanted to run around and catch balls.”
Rudolph caught 28 passes on 35 targets in 2020, his lowest output since the 2014 season. He churned up 334 receiving yards and one touchdown, the latter of which was a career low for the former second-rounder.
At 31, Rudolph said he feels he has “a lot of good football left” and will have a chance to play for his second NFL team.
Rudolph’s impact off the field was well documented throughout his time in Minnesota. The tight end’s work with the Masonic Children’s Hospital led to him being the Vikings’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee three straight times from 2017-19.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins called Rudolph “the smartest player I’ll ever play with” in a tweet that paid homage to his former teammate, who also drew praise from coach Mike Zimmer.
“Kyle has been a leader and mentor for us on and off the field from the first day I arrived in Minnesota,” Zimmer said. “He has been such an important part of this team and community throughout his career and it has been an honor to coach him the last seven seasons. He will be missed, and we wish him and his family nothing but the best.”