The Vikings have agreed to a five-year $36.5 million contract extension with tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The deal came as Rudolph was preparing to enter his contract year with the Vikings. It makes Rudolph the fifth-highest paid tight end based on the average salary per season – trailing only Vernon Davis ($7.35 million annual average), Jason Witten ($7.4 million), Rob Gronkowski ($9 million) and Jimmy Graham ($10 million).
“I’m very excited to get this extension done with Kyle. We drafted him. He’s done a tremendous job since he’s been here,” general manager Rick Spielman said in a statement. “Our whole focus on moving forward in this organization is to draft our players, develop them and keep them here. He’s one of our young guys who is going to be a building block as we go forward in the future and just very excited to get this behind us so we can look forward to seeing him produce over the coming years.”
The topic of a contract extension was front and center when Rudolph arrived at training camp Thursday and he said he was hopeful he would get a contract done that would be fair to both him and the Vikings.
His contract average is on pace with other recent signees, including Antonio Gates ($7.24 million), Jared Cook ($7.02 million), Jermichael Finley ($7 million) and Marcedes Lewis ($6.8 million).
In his three seasons with the Vikings, Rudolph had shown incremental improvement. In his first season in 2011, in 15 games with Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser in front of him in the tight end pecking order, Rudolph caught 39 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. After both Shiancoe and Kleinsasser went away following the 2011 season, Rudolph stepped into the starting lineup and made a big impact, catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns – leading all tight ends in red zone receptions (14) and red zone touchdowns (nine).
Rudolph’s 2013 season was cut to just eight games after suffering a foot injury against the Dallas Cowboys Nov. 3 while catching a 31-yard touchdown pass. While initially thought to be a four-to-six-week injury, Rudolph missed the final eight games of the seasons – finishing the year with 30 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
Rudolph was viewed as a priority signing coming into the season and he is the only member of the draft class of 2011 that has been re-signed to a second contract. Three other current or former Vikings starters from that draft class are entering their final season of their contracts – quarterback Christian Ponder, safety Mistral Raymond and guard Brandon Fusco – but no talks have been underway with any of them. Both Raymond and Fusco are facing challenges to their starting jobs and it appears clear that Ponder is entering his final season with the Vikings.
“I’m extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings,” Rudolph said. “I’ve said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and, most importantly, I’m excited about where this team is going. I’m looking forward to the 2014 season and helping this organization reach our ultimate goal.”
Given the history of offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s extensive use of the tight end – from Jay Novacek in Dallas to Gates for years in San Diego to Jordan Cameron in Cleveland last year – it was clear that he has big plans for Rudolph as he incorporates his offensive scheme with the Vikings.
Rudolph is expected to discuss the contract extension in greater detail at Monday’s practice.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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