Kyle Rudolph Rumors: Patriots, Browns Interest TE After Vikings Release

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) runs after a catch against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

As he examines his market in free agency, two teams have already crossed the mind of veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph.

NESN.com's Doug Kyed reported Rudolph is interested in a move to the New England Patriots, while Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot reported he's equally intrigued by a reunion with Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.

The Minnesota Vikings announced Tuesday they released the two-time Pro Bowler after he spent 10 seasons with the franchise.

The move wasn't necessarily an indictment of Rudolph's performance. Teams are looking to cut costs every offseason. With the 2021 salary cap negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, one head coach told ESPN's Dianna Russini he expects to see "a massacre next week all around the league" in reference to upcoming roster cuts.

The Pioneer Press' Chris Tomasson noted the Vikings saved a little more than $5 million by releasing Rudolph and will absorb $4.4 million in dead money.

The 31-year-old caught 28 passes for 334 yards and one touchdown in 2020. While those numbers aren't necessarily impressive, he averaged a career-high 11.9 yards per reception, and his 75.7 percent catch rate was his third-best ever, per Pro Football Reference.

The Patriots have so far failed to adequately replace Rob Gronkowski following his brief retirement in March 2019.

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New England selected Devin Asiasi in the third round of the 2020 draft, but he logged a total of seven targets as a rookie.

Cam Newton struggled after testing positive for COVID-19 in the middle of the season, which impacted the entire passing game. Asiasi also spent a chunk of the year on injured reserve, so it's tough to glean anything from his 2020 output.

Signing Rudolph would be a good way for the Patriots to stabilize their tight end situation while still leaving Asiasi with a path to become the long-term No. 1 guy at the position.

For Cleveland, the former Notre Dame star could replace David Njoku, who's in the final year of his contract and is due to earn a little more than $6 million. Because that money isn't guaranteed, all of that would convert into cap savings if the Browns traded or released Njoku.

A first-round pick in 2017, the 24-year-old is still waiting for a breakthrough. He seemed to acknowledge his future in Northeast Ohio is in some doubt:

Stefanksi was a longtime Vikings staffer before ascending to the offensive coordinator gig in 2019. Because of that, Rudolph may have no trouble adjusting to new surroundings on the Browns. Cabot posited he "already knows the offense as well as or better than anyone on the Browns."