NFL free agency is really starting to heating up with teams officially able to sign players on March 17, the start of the new year. However, former two-time Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph doesn't have to wait until then to sign because he was just released by the only franchise he has known, the Minnesota Vikings. There will be a robust market for the 31-year-old, with SportsLine offering odds on his next team. It could come down to an AFC East tug-of-war between the Patriots and Bills – although a handful of other teams also are possibilities.
Rudolph was a 2011 second-round pick out of Notre Dame by the Vikings, and he became one of the NFL's better tight ends. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012 (the game's MVP that season) and 2017 and finished his Minnesota career with 453 catches for 4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns over 140 career regular-season games. He ranks fifth in team history in both receptions and touchdowns and is 10th all-time in receiving yards. His 48 TD catches are the most by a tight end in team history.
Rudolph's five-season run of playing all 16 regular-season games ended in 2020 when he finished with only 28 catches for 334 yards and a TD in 12 games. He wasn't overly thrilled with his lack of involvement in the offense, and it was no surprise the Vikings released him to save $5.1 million in cap space. Minnesota has a capable replacement in Irv Smith.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins called Rudolph "the smartest player I'll ever play with," and Rudolph is also a terrific person in the community – he was the Vikings' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee three straight times from 2017-19.
Like most veterans who have made good money and are nearing the tail end of their careers, it is thought Rudolph – a free agent for the first time -- will lean toward signing with a potential Super Bowl 56 contender. Buffalo is definitely that, and New England could be, too, if the Patriots can find the right quarterback.
NESN.com reported that Rudolph is interested in signing with New England; the Pats' tight ends last season combined for woeful totals of 18 passes for 254 yards with no touchdowns. Kansas City's Travis Kelce can almost do that in one game. The Patriots currently have 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene and veterans Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse on their 90-man roster. Those latter two could easily be released, and the Pats tried to trade for Rudolph as recently as two years ago.
Buffalo reached last season's AFC title game and Rudolph could reunite with No. 1 Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, his former Vikings teammate, and one-time Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier, Buffalo's defensive coordinator. Dawson Knox and Lee Smith are the two Bills tight ends under contract for 2021. Of all the teams on this list, the Bills have the shortest William Hill Sportsbook odds to win Super Bowl 56 at +1200.
Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported that Rudolph would be interested in signing with the Browns if the team doesn't retain David Njoku, but Cleveland still has Austin Hooper and young Harrison Bryant at the position. The Browns' head coach is Kevin Stefanski, who was an assistant with the Vikings in Rudolph's first nine seasons and his position coach from 2014-15.
If the Titans don't re-sign Jonny Smith (or tag him), Rudolph could land in Tennessee as his replacement or even serve as the No. 2 tight end. Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing was the Vikings' tight ends coach in 2018.
Let's not rule out Cincinnati as Rudolph is from there. The Bengals seem on the rise with Joe Burrow but aren't close to Super Bowl contention.
Arizona already made one big splash by signing future Hall of Fame defensive end JJ Watt, so how about giving Kyler Murray another red-zone weapon in Rudolph? Dan Arnold had a nice 2021 season but is a free agent, so Maxx Williams is the only tight end currently under contract on the Cards.
How about another NFC West team in Seattle? The Seahawks lost Greg Olsen to retirement, Jacob Hollister is a free agent and they already have reached out to Philadelphia about a potential trade for tight end Zach Ertz. Rudolph wouldn't cost anything but money and would be cheaper salary-wise than Ertz.
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Favorites to sign Kyle Rudolph
- Patriots +200
- Bills +400
- Titans +500
- Seahawks +700
- Browns +800
- Cardinals +1000
- Bengals +1200
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