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I had a few questions about what the Vikings will do at the TE3 position after cutting Kyle Rudolph. Assuming Irv Smith, Jr., and Tyler Conklin will take the first and second spots, Brandon Dillon and Hale Hentges are the only other tight ends on the roster. Could you see us drafting a TE in the later rounds? Also, I was surprised the Vikings didn't trade Rudolph to a TE needy team like the Patriots or the Cowboys. Thoughts?
— Carter Woodgate from New Prague, Minnesota
Thanks to Carter for starting us off this week. I'll get into what Rudolph's release means for the team in a bit, but I want to use this space to praise the man himself for a minute.
Rudolph has been among my favorite players to cover in the past five seasons with the team, and not just because of his on-field success and for what he has done for the Twin Cities. He'll surely go down as one of the best tight ends in team history. And the work he and his wife, Jordan, have done in the community (especially with Kyle Rudolph's End Zone at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital) is second-to-none as far as players making an impact on those around them.
But Rudolph was also a great help to me and others in Vikings Entertainment Network, always making time to chat for a piece of content, or even just shoot the breeze while hanging at a youth football camp or in the cafeteria in the team facility. He will be missed, and I'll be rooting for him going forward.
As for how the Vikings operate from here on, you are correct that Smith and Conklin will now likely be the top two options at tight end. Both showed they are capable of performing well in those roles in the final month of the 2020 season when Rudolph was out with a foot injury.
But with Dillon and Hentges being a bit unproven behind them, I do think there is a chance that a tight end gets added to the roster on Day 3 of the draft. The Vikings are keeping their offensive scheme the same in 2021, which could mean the same reliance on multiple tight-end sets. If that is indeed the case, perhaps the team brings in even more depth there so the roster has a stable of five or six options to help with any possible injuries that might happen if there's a training camp or preseason.
And lastly, perhaps the team didn't trade him so that he could solely choose his next team. Sure, maybe the Vikings front office would have worked with Rudolph on a potential trade, but this gives a well-respected player time and options before free agency starts on March 17.
*Hello Eric, thanks for your efforts with the Mailbag. While I admire their success and I'm not a fan of the Packers, I'm wondering your thoughts about one similarity: Dan Bailey and Mason Crosby. You'll recall a few years ago Crosby went through a similar funk as Bailey this season. I'd be in favor of maintaining patience, seeing this one through and watching Bailey rebound to the quality kicker he has been. Your thoughts? *
— Chris Pellerito
A really interesting email and potential comparison by Chris, so let's dive into the numbers.
Here are Crosby's career stats: 345 of 422 on field goals (81.8 percent), with a long of 58 in 224 career games (14 seasons).
And Bailey's: 249 of 290 on field goals (85.9 percent), with a long of 56 in 154 career games (10 seasons).
Crosby was a sixth-round pick by the Packers in 2007 and made at least 75 percent of his field goals from his rookie season to 2011. But he struggled in 2012 with a success rate of just 63.6 percent on field goals, only to rebound by hitting at least 78.9 percent of his field goals from 2013 to 2020. And he has made 38 of 40 field goals in the past two seasons, including all 16 attempts in 2020. Crosby was 9-for-9 from 40+ in 2020.
So that's five solid seasons for Crosby, followed by a one-season dip and then an impressive eight-season stretch. Now let's look at Bailey, who entered the league in 2011 with the Cowboys.
He made at least 84.4 of his kicks from 2011 to 2016, but then dipped to 75 percent in 12 games with Dallas in 2017 and 14 games with Minnesota in 2018. (He was dealing with an injury with the Cowboys and there were some holding issues in 2018).
Bailey then bounced back by making 93.1 percent of his field goals in 2019, but he notably struggled over the final month of the 2020 season and ended up with a career-worst percentage of 68.2.
So that's nine good-to-great years from Bailey, while the freshest memory is obviously his worst season as a pro. (It's worth noting that Bailey was dealing with a bad back, and the Vikings changed long snappers or all of the second half of this past season).
So, what does it mean for 2021 and beyond? Well, there's an expectation that Bailey and Greg Joseph will engage in a kicking competition this offseason and in training camp.
But Bailey just turned 33 years old in late January and could very well have numerous productive years left. History has shown us that kickers can keep on kicking as they age. Crosby himself has showed us that, as have notable names such as Adam Vinatieri, former Vikings kicker Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson, plus others such as Jason Hanson and John Carney who all kicked into their 40s.
If you ask me, I just think Bailey went through a bad funk at the end of 2020. And if he is indeed the Vikings kicker in 2021, I'd have full confidence in him to deliver when needed.
Can you include more from the training staff, doctors or even the psychologist on the draft process for them? I've been a Vikings fan since Fran Tarkenton. The first-ever Viking game was played was five days before my born date.
— Mark Leindecker in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Thanks for the longtime support, and for the timely question, Mark. I'll say that teams like to keep most of this information close to the vest when it comes to medical, psychological or mental evaluations. Front offices just don't like that information getting out there, as many see it as a competitive disadvantage if it is leaked.
But with COVID-19 still impacting usual draft processes for teams, medical evaluations will be as crucial as ever this spring. For one, the combine will be a medical-only event with no on-field drills or in-person interviews between prospects and teams.
And with some college players opting out of the 2020 season, NFL teams will be curious what kind of shape they are in after not playing for a full season. To me, this is a sneaky important aspect to watch as the draft draws near.
Pro days at college campuses also have undergone changes but are ramping up this week.
Keep your eyes peeled on Vikings.com, and we'll provide more pre-draft coverage in the coming weeks.