Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson, Zach Davidson, and Nick Muse — those are the Minnesota Vikings tight ends as of July 14th.
From 2019 to 2021, the Vikings always had some combination of Irv Smith Jr., Kyle Rudolph, and Tyler Conklin on the depth chart. But now, at least until another free agent is signed, it’s Irv Smith Jr. and a hope he’ll remain healthy — like he could not in 2021 — as the depth after him is sparse.
Smith Jr. tore his meniscus late in the summer last year, shelving him for the entire season while the aforementioned Conklin stepped up in a big way. But Conklin doesn’t play for the Vikings anymore. He’ll earn about $7 million per season with the New York Jets.
Therefore, Minnesota could stand to be a little deeper at TE unless it plans to implement a funky plan like C.J. Ham for the role. The New York Giants released Kyle Rudolph a few months ago, and the ex-Viking has signed nowhere since.
Rudolph spent 10 seasons with the Vikings en route to becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdowns among tight ends. Among all Vikings players, he ranks 10th for paydirts all-time. Because of those fond memories, Rudolph is open to returning to the Vikings.
He told KFAN‘s Paul Allen about the desire three weeks ago, “I said it when we left here that Minnesota is always home. That’s never been brought to my attention more than when we came back from New Jersey after last season.”
And now, according to ESPN, the teams coveting Rudolph are the Vikings — and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Vikings have the hometown feels for Rudolph, whereas the Buccaneers are bonafide Super Bowl contenders. In that regard, Rudolph’s eventual destination choice is a coin flip. Rob Gronkowski retired for good this offseason — allegedly, anyway — so Tom Brady and friends have a TE hole. Cameron Brate and rookie Cade Otton are slated to compete for the two big TE jobs. Rudolph would nestle in as a TE2 or TE3 down in Tampa, barring any mammoth immediate breakout from Otton.
Moreover, Rudolph told FOX9 this week about a possible Vikings reunion:
It would definitely interest me. This is home for us, certainly it would make life a lot easier for my wife and four kids to stay in the house that we live in here. This place is extremely special to us, that organization is special to us. To be able to come back and have an opportunity to play there again and fight to accomplish the only goal that I never accomplished as a Viking, win a championship, that would be great. But we’ll see.
– Kyle Rudolph
The man is getting traction around the league. Such was not the case from March to June.
Per the Fowler tweet above, the decision should arrive in mere days or weeks. Rudolph will turn 33 in November.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).