EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is cashing in now (no pun intended) on advice he received eight years ago.
Rudolph, who has agreed to terms on a contract extension with Minnesota, spoke with Twin Cities media members Tuesday and recalled a conversation he had with Jim Kleinsasser in 2011. The Vikings had drafted Rudolph 43rd overall, and he joined a tight end group led by Kleinsasser, who played his 13th and final NFL season that year.
“He talked to me about how throughout his career, he had a couple opportunities to make more money elsewhere, but he stayed here – because of this organization and because of the state of Minnesota,” Rudolph said. “Now [entering my ninth season] and under contract through my 13th year, I hope I’m the same way.”
Rudolph felt strongly about remaining a Viking rather than playing through the final season on his previous contract and testing the market in 2020.
“I don’t care about that,” Rudolph said. “It’s about being here in the state of Minnesota, playing for this team, being in a color Purple that I love and am comfortable in, and having my family here in this community.”
Rudolph thanked the Wilf family, General Manager Rick Spielman, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski and his agents for helping come up with a deal.
Asked if the Wilfs’ willingness to continue extending players demonstrated a “win-now” approach, Rudolph responded that it really isn’t out of character for how the owners have operated since day one.
“To me it just embodies the mentality of how much they care about winning, period,” Rudolph said. “They came to this organization a little over 12 years ago with one goal, and that was to win a championship.”
He later emphasized that the Wilfs, the Vikings front office and the coaching staff have set the tone with a philosophy that values the players and, in turn, fosters an environment that players don’t want to leave.
“There’s a reason why people come back to this organization,” Rudolph said. “There’s a reason why Anthony Barr left more money on the table; there’s a reason why I had no interest in testing free agency. It’s because of the culture that they’ve established around here, and culture is what ultimately brings championships.
“In this league, the talent level is so even across all 32 teams, and if you don’t have good culture, then you don’t have a chance,” he continued. “We have the culture here, and I’m really excited for this upcoming season.”
At 29 years old, Rudolph believes he has plenty left in the tank – and then some – to help Minnesota achieve that ultimate goal. He wants to be part of the first Super Bowl victory in Vikings history and said he’s ready to play a significant role in that pursuit.
According to Rudolph, he feels physically better now than he did early in his career.
“You just learn how to take care of your body,” Rudolph said. “You learn what your body needs throughout the course of the offseason to become a better football player but to also prepare yourself for that season, you learn week-by-week in-season what your body needs to be able to play on Sundays.
“I’m going to try to play as long as I can,” Rudolph added. “At this point, my focus is on becoming a better football player now, doing everything I can to help this offense get a little better and bring the first championship here to the state of Minnesota.”
Part of Rudolph’s involvement with the Vikings offense has included working with rookie tight end Irv Smith, Jr., whom Minnesota drafted 50th overall in April.
Over the course of the team’s voluntary Organized Team Activity practices that were open to the media, the Vikings utilized multiple-tight end sets. Smith told media members Tuesday that having him and Rudolph on the field together will “open up a lot and create mismatches on the field.”
“If they need me to block or run routes, whatever I can do to make plays, I’m good with it,” Smith said. “If you have that many big guys on the field … you don’t know what we’re going to do.
“They can load the box if they want to, but that’s going to open up the passing game,” Smith explained. “If they want to put DBs in there, then we can run the ball. It opens up a lot.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer also believes the pair of second-round picks can complement each other.
“We’re going to try to use a lot of different tight end formations. I think the skill sets of all those guys, including [Tyler] Conklin, will help us a lot,” Zimmer said. “Usually when you line up with three tight ends, the defense constricts or gets bigger guys in there, and with the guys we have, we can still open up formations and use them as wide receivers, per se.”
Zimmer was asked if roster consistency played a part in Rudolph’s extension.
He thought about it a moment before answering.
“Maybe a little bit, but really it’s about having another really good football player here. Kyle is a good football player, and I think that’s more important than familiarity,” Zimmer said. “Guys can get familiar with each other, and I know that helps, but it really wasn’t part of the decision.”
What Zimmer and Spielman did point out to media members, however, is the importance of Rudolph’s off-field impact in addition to his performance between the lines.
Zimmer said he spoke to a few different people over the past week who all asked about Rudolph’s well-being and his future with the club.
“That’s the kind of guy he is in the community,” Zimmer said of Rudolph, who twice has been nominated as the Vikings Community Man of the Year.
“Kyle is, number one, a great teammate. He’s a really good person,” Zimmer said.
Added Spielman: “I know we’re here in this business to win football games, but a lot of times it goes beyond that.”
Teammates of Rudolph’s – old and new – have expressed similar sentiments.
Smith is grateful that the more experienced player has taken him under his wing and helped show Smith the ropes of the NFL. The rookie plans to keep his eyes on Rudolph and continue learning however possible.
“He carries himself as a pro out here,” Smith said, “He’s played nine years in the League, so he’s been there and done a lot of things … made Pro Bowls. [I’m just] watching him and seeing how he carries himself and taking it to my game, as well.”
Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, who signed a contract extension with the Vikings last summer, called it “exciting” to see Rudolph staying in Purple for the foreseeable future.
“Since I’ve been here, Kyle’s definitely been one of the older guys that’s always led by example on this team,” Diggs said. “Being that he’s going to stick around here for a long period of time, it’s going to be fun.
“I’m happy to share this journey with him,” Diggs added. “I look forward to it.”