According to multiple reports, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings have expressed interest in signing veteran free-agent tight end Kyle Rudolph. With training camp less than two weeks away, all 32 franchises find themselves in crunch mode in relation to upgrading their roster. A flurry of activity is expected to reach the open market, and it shouldn’t be long before Rudolph chooses his suitor.
The 32-year-old Rudolph spent the 2021 campaign as a member of the New York Giants. Rudolph appeared in 16 regular-season contests, securing 26 receptions for 257 yards and a touchdown. The Giants’ passing game was downright broken and Rudolph’s ceiling was limited in their offense.
Rudolph’s best years may be behind him, but the savvy veteran proved he’s still capable of staying healthy and getting open. An especially appealing target in the red zone with 49 career touchdowns, Rudolph is a big-bodied pass-catcher that’s been a consistent performer dating back to 2011. With the Buccaneers and Vikings both expressing interest, we examined the two known fits for Rudolph’s services.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
It’s no surprise to see the Buccaneers expressing interest in Rudolph. Tampa’s tight end depth chart suffered a blow when Rob Gronkowski officially announced his retirement. Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht was somewhat prepared for that occurrence. The Buccaneers drafted two tight ends in the 2022 NFL Draft, but neither player is expected to immediately contribute this season, at least not in the passing game.
Cade Otton was a sneaky-smart draft pick in the fourth round, but Otton was limited throughout the pre-draft process due to an ankle injury. It somewhat slowed Otton’s acclimation to the league. The Buccaneers also drafted Ko Kieft in the sixth round. Kieft is an expert blocking tight end that offers almost nothing as a pass-catcher. Ben Beise, J.J. Howland, and Codey McElroy are also battling for spots in training camp, but neither player is expected to make the 53-man roster.
O.J. Howard also departed the Buccaneers in free agency, leaving long-term veteran Cameron Brate as the unquestioned starter. Brate is a solid team-first player, but who would take the field alongside him in two tight-end sets is currently unclear. Adding Rudolph to the fray would immediately solve that issue.
Buccaneers starting quarterback Tom Brady is going to miss what Gronkowski offered Tampa’s offense in the red zone. There’s no like-for-like replacement for a talent such as Gronk, but Rudolph’s strong abilities within 20 yards of the opponent’s end zone would help offset what the Buccaneers lost. Brady would immediately appreciate Rudolph’s “my-ball” mentality in the red area.
A reunion between Rudolph and the Minnesota Vikings would pull on our heartstrings. Rudolph originally entered the league as a second-round selection (No. 43 overall) of the Vikings in the 2011 NFL Draft. Rudolph would spend the first 10 seasons (2011-20) of his professional career as a Viking, racking up 453 receptions for 4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns along the way. Rudolph ranks second all-time among all Vikings tight ends in receptions and receiving yards, and first in touchdowns. The 2021 season was the first campaign Rudolph spent outside of Minnesota.
Rudolph would encounter plenty of new faces in Minnesota. Long-time general manager Rick Spielman, who served as Minnesota’s Vice President of Player Personnel when Rudolph was drafted, is no longer in place. Spielman was replaced by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who has no known ties to Rudolph. Rudolph also spent the majority of his Vikings career playing for head coach Mike Zimmer, who has been replaced by Kevin O’Connell. It shouldn’t hurt Rudolph’s chances of landing back in Minnesota, but it’s worth acknowledging nonetheless.
Irv Smith Jr. is expected to step into the starting tight end role left vacant by Tyler Conklin’s departure to the New York Jets. Conklin easily led all Vikings tight ends in catches, yards, and touchdowns last season. Second and third-string tight ends Chris Herndon and Luke Stocker combined for six catches. It’s a huge spot for Smith, who missed the entire 2021 season with a torn meniscus. A second-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Smith has yet to live up to his billing, never totaling more than 36 catches and two touchdowns in a single season.
The Vikings could use some veteran stability behind Smith, who’s being thrust into a major spot. Tight end Johnny Mundt was also signed this offseason. O’Connell had experience coaching Mundt in Los Angeles, but he’s no more than a role player. The Vikings also didn’t draft a tight end until the seventh round (Nick Muse).
The Vikings could certainly utilize Rudolph’s services. Rudolph would serve as another passing-game option for an offense that has the potential to explode in 2022. If this reunion comes to fruition, we’re going to pretend like Rudolph-to-the-Giants never happened.
- Aug 18, 2022
- Aug 18, 2022