Tuesday marked the end of an era in Minnesota as the Vikings terminated the contract of Kyle Rudolph.
The tight end spent 10 seasons in Purple and helped create numerous everlasting memories in Minnesota, whether it was a plethora of one-handed touchdown catches or for his life-changing work at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
Chad Graff and Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently analyzed what Rudolph’s departure means for the team, and how the Vikings could look at tight end on the field going forward.
Graff opined that Minnesota is in a good spot with Irv Smith, Jr., and Tyler Conklin now likely to be the top two tight ends in the offense.
View the best photos of tight end Kyle Rudolph during his time with the Vikings.
Smith is entering his third season, and it's worth remembering that he was the youngest player drafted in the first two days in 2019. He won't turn 23 until training camp. Smith hasn't yet eclipsed 400 receiving yards in either of his first two seasons but has shown flashes that inspire confidence within the coaching staff. The Vikings feel he's ready for a bigger role, one that involves him being on the field virtually every play.
Conklin sits behind Smith on the new depth chart. He put together a productive four games at the end of the season with a bigger role following Rudolph's injury [in the final month of the season]. Since the Vikings often play with two tight ends on the field at the same time, Conklin is now basically a starter in this offense. He caught 19 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown last season. It wouldn't surprise me if the Vikings brought in a depth free agent later this month at the position or potentially used a Day 3 draft pick on a tight end.
Smith had 30 catches for 365 yards and five scores in his second season in the NFL in 2020. Conklin's totals exceeded his combined stats in limited duty from 2018-19 when he totaled 13 receptions for 135 yards.
Hasan said he has lofty expectations for Smith, who was the 50th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Knowing that tight ends typically break out in Year 3, I'd expect the Vikings to give him the kind of snap load that would see a good tight end earn upwards of 500 yards and six or so touchdowns. His additional capability as an H-back as well as a motion man on jet sweeps or an arc-blocker on split zones make him valuable enough to put on the field in any situation, so we should be seeing quite a bit of him.
The real question is whether the Vikings will invest in a third receiver or a third tight end — because the answer to that question will also tell us if they'll be changing their approach to offensive personnel with more three-receiver sets. If so, we might want to pump the brakes on Conklin, whose average of 30 yards per game in Rudolph's absence was impressive but not definitive. If I had to guess, I'd say the Vikings stick with what they think works and invest in another tight end to give themselves the luxury to play Conklin fairly often in two-tight end sets.
Minnesota also has Hale Hentges and Brandon Dillon available at the tight end spot.
View photos of tight end Kyle Rudolph who supported the community in many ways during his time with the Vikings.
Rudolph was a two-time Pro Bowler (and the game's MVP in 2013) in 10 seasons with the Vikings.
He recorded 453 catches for 4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns over 140 career regular-season games in Minnesota.
He ranks fifth in team history in both receptions and touchdown catches and is 10th all-time in Vikings lore in receiving yards.
Rudolph has the most touchdown receptions by a tight end in franchise history and is second behind Steve Jordan among tight ends in catches and yards.
Thielen helps open ETS gym in Green Bay
Yes, you read that headline correctly.
Adam Thielen will always be partial to the state of Minnesota — he grew up in Detroit Lakes, went to college in Mankato and debuted for the Vikings in 2014 after a season on the practice squad.
But the Vikings wide receiver is also a partner with ETS Sports Performance Gym, which was founded by Thielen's personal trainer and friend Ryan Englebert.
Richard Ryman of the Green Bay Press-Gazette caught up with No. 19 at the opening.
View the best photos of Vikings WR Adam Thielen from the 2020 season.
Thielen, a record-setting receiver with the Vikings, became acquainted with ETS coming out of college while training for the NFL combine, and eventually invested in the company. It is still a part of his offseason program.
"Each year it grew and grew. And I was really seeing the results translate," he said. "I do this myself. I believe in it. I trust it."
Former Packers fullback John Kuhn is a co-owner of the ETS in Green Bay.