I have mixed emotions today.
Last night the Vikings released tight end Kyle Rudolph. Ending a 10 year run of stability with the team.
Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Rudolph, Antoine Winfield, and Harrison Smith were/are the easiest ‘name-on-the-back’ players to root for in Viking’s history. There was/is never anything to worry about off the field with these guys, and it’s always comforting to know you’re rooting for good people.
There have been plenty of examples on the other side where someone has asked me how can you root for player X or player Y when he’s done this and that?
My answer has always been: I don’t. I root for the Vikings. Always the front of the jersey, not the back.
With these guys I never had to worry about that.
Rudolph was one of the guys I personally rooted for the most. A touchdown catch he hauled in on a Fall Sunday would always come with a bigger, more emotional, fist pump than when anyone else scored.
Much like a Harrison Smith hit or interception, an Antoine Winfield tackle in the backfield, or a Teddy Bridgewater scamper for a 1st down, Rudolph’s big plays on the field always meant more to me because of all he did off of it.
I remember being brought to tears by the DEAR KYLE segment a couple years ago. After watching that, and being a new father around that time, I decided then and there Kyle was above on-field criticism. He would no longer endure any from me for any reason. Drop 100 balls a year Kyle, I don’t care.
In typical Rudolph fashion he wrote an extremely long and well thought out thank you to various players he played with, the fans, the front office, coaches, owners, the city of Minneapolis, and posted it on social media.
If there was ever anybody who deserved a loyal send off, the ability to go out on his own terms, and the luxury of starting and finishing his career with one team, it’s Kyle Rudolph.
Unfortunately the modern day business world of sports rarely allows for that to happen.
NBA coach Stan Van Gundy once said the hardest thing to do in sports is deal with an aging superstar.
While this doesn’t quite qualify on a superstar level, the same principle applies here.
Nobody in the NFL likes to take pay cuts, restructure their deals, (which most of the time is just another name for pay cut) or be forced into early retirement. Players literally put their physical and mental health in jeopardy with every snap of the ball, and none of them want to be told go out and do that same thing you’ve been doing, only do it for less money next year in the offseason.
Plus every athlete takes it personal. They always believe their team no longer thinks they can play at a high level anymore when approached about it. They become dead-set on proving the organization wrong.
I get all that.
But 9 times out of 10 the organization is right on with their timing, or is forced into the move because of the salary cap. The salary cap is always the giant piano looming over a player’s head in the NFL.
When the player refuses to take the pay-cut, 90% of the time he ends up going to another team for less money, is less productive, and 2 or 3 years later is out of the league for good.
After the Vikings were rumored to be in trade talks with New England and eventually restructured Rudolph’s deal last offseason (in a move that was technically called a contract extension but really just moved money around to make it easier for the organization to keep him for another year, while heavily backloading dollars to future years, making it easier for him to be cut down the road) Kyle should’ve been prepared for something like this, this offseason.
Especially after posting his worst numbers since the 2014 season.
Knowing what he’s done for the community, the team, and how much his family loves the state of Minnesota, I’m surprised he wasn’t open to working it out.
He was the one guy I thought would have done a little bit of research and had more awareness towards what happens to the vast majority of NFL players who balk at taking pay cuts and hit free agency in their 30s as a cap casualty.
Along with that I would have expected him to have a little more self awareness of where he’s at in his career.
Obviously the guy can still play. He’ll be a huge weapon for the Bills, Browns, Patriots, or Packers to have in the red zone when he inevitably signs with one of those four teams, but not at a 7.25 million base salary with a 9.45 million dollar cap hit.
Nobody is going to pay him that on the open market.
The Vikings weren’t going to either. Minnesota, with their salary cap situation, basically had no other choice if Rudolph wasn’t willing to work with them.
And clearly he wasn’t.
This is what he told former Viking Ben Leber on his podcast in late January when asked about taking a pay cut to stay with Minnesota:
“It wouldn’t happen,” he said. “You only get to play this game for so many years, and I feel like I have a lot of good football left. Now we fast-forward, I’ve played these three years on my contract and I’m now 33, 34 and they’re like, ‘Hey, we want to keep you around for a couple years at a much lower number, but we want you to do X, Y and Z help these young guys out’ — sign me up.”
That quote showcases the stubbornness of an athlete who has worked hard his whole life to get where he is, has always bet on himself and won, has earned everything he’s got, and, unfortunately, is not able to come to grips with the reality of father time chipping away at him and where his value realistically is in his current situation.
Where he is and where he thinks he is in terms of his career are two completely different areas.
Kyle you are the 33, 34 year old right now in this scenario. It doesn’t matter how old you actually are (31) we’ve reached the point in your career where we are having that conversation you mentioned at the end of your quote, you just don’t realize it.
You’re just too close to the forrest to see the trees.
You are gonna look back in 3 or 4 years, after having played for 2 or 3 different teams in that time and maybe earned a few more million dollars than you would have if you stayed in Minnesota and finished your career, and wish you worked something out with the Vikings organization in 2021.
If Minnesota means that much to you, (and you say it does in your long letter goodbye…You’re not moving or selling your house. Your kids will stay in school there, etc) you could’ve easily stayed and worked something out…
Swallowed a little bit of that athletic pride and seen the big picture.
I know. Easy for me to say. I haven’t been a lifetime athlete who’s body has never let me down and has helped me make millions of dollars to provide for my family.
I know. I know. I know.
But history is not on Kyle Rudolph’s side on this one.
It will be interesting to see how much he signs for in the free agent market.
No matter what that number turns out to be Rudolph will eventually look back and say it wasn’t worth it.
A pay cut and staying in the community he loves and calls home would make much more sense.
Unfortunately his pride won’t let him see it that way.
And history will prove him wrong.
Kyle, it’s been a great decade. I’m sure five years from now we’ll see you again at your ring of honor ceremony.
In the meantime, I’ll be checking in on you from time to time, hoping your proving me wrong.
Just as long as you’re not doing it in a Packers uniform.