With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror, 2020 free agency is just around the corner. That period will officially begin at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 18 when the new league year begins.
Over the next two weeks, Eric Smith, Craig Peters and I will dive into Minnesota's current roster status by position. We'll offer a refresher on which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, where potential needs might be and note players from other teams that are set to become free agents.
Up next? The tight ends …
View the best photos from Vikings team photographers of the tight ends during the 2019 season.
Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith, Jr., Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon & David Morgan
2019 Stats: 16 games (16 starts); 39 catches for 367 yards (9.4 avg) and six touchdowns
The Vikings inked Rudolph to an extension last summer to keep the veteran tight end in Minnesota.
Since his selection by the Vikings in 2011, Rudolph has been a consistent pass catcher and threat in the red zone. He embraced a new-look role in 2019 that initially involved a heavier responsibility in the blocking game and evolved throughout the season.
View the top photos of Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph from the 2019 season.
Rudolph made splash plays in a few big games last season, including an impressive one-handed touchdown grab at Dallas in prime time and the game-winning touchdown catch in overtime in the Wild Card game at New Orleans.
"Kyle has had a good year," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said in December. "Obviously, he's very reliable in the passing game, and he's been doing a much better job in the run game. He really does everything that we ask him to do, and it's good to see."
2019 Stats: 16 games (seven starts); 36 catches for 311 yards (8.6 avg) and two touchdowns
The Vikings drafted Smith in the second round in last year's draft, and the rookie stepped in and made an impact throughout his first pro season.
Under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and with the influence of Gary Kubiak, who now holds the coordinator role, the Vikings often utilized two-tight-end sets that saw Rudolph and Smith on the field together.
Smith progressed every week. His first NFL touchdown occurred in Week 11 and helped spark Minnesota's late-game comeback victory over Denver.
"It's crazy how each game I get more confidence," Smith said at the conclusion of Minnesota's 2019 season. "It was football at the end of the day, [and] I really enjoyed it."
2019 Stats: 15 games (one start); eight catches for 58 yards (7.3 avg)
A fifth-round draft pick in 2018, Conklin primarily contributed on special teams in his first two seasons but did see an uptick in offensive participation in 2019. He was on the field for 27 percent of Minnesota's offensive plays (compared to 14 percent in 2018), serving mostly as a blocking tight end while occasionally being targeted in the passing game.
View the top photos of Vikings TE Tyler Conklin from the 2019 season.
2019 Stats: One game played
The Vikings signed Dillon as an undrafted rookie out of Marian University (Indiana) last spring. He played seven snaps in Minnesota's season opener against Atlanta before being added to the practice squad, where he remained for the rest of the season.
2019 Stats: N/A
Morgan spent the 2019 season on Injured Reserve.
SCHEDULED TO BECOME A FREE AGENT:
All five of Minnesota's tight ends are currently under contract.
The Vikings appear to be in good shape at tight end.
The position group is well-stocked as it stands, with no one scheduled to hit free agency in a couple of weeks. Assuming that Rudolph and Smith both will remain on the roster for 2020, I'd expect the Vikings to continue developing the players behind them.
Morgan's expected return, and the development of Conklin and Dillon, are likely to be storylines throughout the offseason program.
WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE:
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling teamed up again this year to rate their top 101 potential free agents.
The following tight ends are listed in order of their overall rankings: 19. Hunter Henry, 32. Austin Hooper, 62. Eric Ebron, 101. Jordan Reed
Other tight ends set to become free agents that didn't crack the top 101 are as follows (listed in order of 2019 team): Charles Clay (AZ), J.P. Holtz* (CHI), Tyler Eifert (CIN), Ricky Seals-Jones (CLE), Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin* (DAL), Logan Thomas (DET), Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan* (GB), Darren Fells (HOU), Seth DeValve and Nick O'Leary (JAX), Blake Bell (KC), Lance Kendricks (LAC), Benjamin Watson (NE), Richard Rodgers (PHI), Ross Dwelley** (SF), Levine Toilolo (SF), Jacob Hollister (SEA), Luke Willson (SEA), Tyrone Swoopes** (SEA), MyCole Pruitt (TEN)
* Restricted free agent
** Exclusive rights free agent
Two former Vikings are scheduled to hit free agency in just under two weeks. Both players advanced into the 2019 postseason, and one earned a Super Bowl ring.
Pruitt spent time with three teams over his first two NFL seasons but settled with Tennessee from 2018-19 and contributed on offense and special teams. Last season, he totaled six catches for 90 yards and scored a touchdown in the regular-season finale against Houston.
Originally a 2015 draft pick by San Francisco in 2015, Bell spent the 2017 campaign with Minnesota. He then played for the Jaguars in 2018 before signing with the Chiefs for the 2019 season.
Bell had eight catches for 67 yards during the 2019 regular season. He scored his first touchdown of the season in the Divisional Round game against the Texans and helped the Chiefs advance to – and win – Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
Also set to become free agents are a pair of well-established veteran tight ends in Witten and Watson.
After retiring for the 2018 season, Witten returned to the field in 2019 and had 63 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns for the Cowboys. Watson, whom the Patriots drafted in 2004, returned to New England and played 11 games (including the postseason) for the Patriots last season.