The Minnesota Vikings are in one of the worst situations in the entire league — the team owns a middling first round NFL Draft pick in 2021 and failed to reach the postseason in 2020-21. Right in the middle of all the action, but in the worst way possible, the Vikings need to pick a direction to head towards, whether that is up or down.
The Vikings, a team that finished at a nearly even 7-9 during the 2020-21 regular season and currently own the No. 14 overall pick in 2021, could very well head into a full-on rebuild en route to revamping the franchise’s roster with young, up-and-coming talent. On the other hand, the Vikings could surround the younger talent already in place with additional veterans that can make an immediate impact.
Thanks to the fact that the rival Green Bay Packers still reside in the NFC North division, coupled with the fact that the NFC as a whole is only getting stronger, the Vikings should probably head south and play the long game. If the Vikings are going to get younger and rebuild from the ground up over the course of the next few years, Minnesota should begin shedding veteran contracts in order to clear available salary cap space while simutleantossly paving the way for younger players to see the field.
One way to do that in a hurry? Parting ways with veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Rudolph was already the center of more than a few trade rumors over the course of the last several seasons, so this wouldn’t be too drastic of a move for Minnesota. Not only that, but the Vikings would also be parting the sea for fellow tight end Irv Smith Jr., who has already shown glimpses of brilliance during his brief stint atop the highest level. With another — and younger — option already in place, the Vikings can reallocate the funds from Rudolph to another area of need for the 2021-22 campaign and beyond.
Slated to earn a base salary of $$7,650,000, the 31-year-old Rudolph will also earn some additional dollars through incentives and other bonuses. If the Vikings are able to shed his salary prior to June 1st, 2021, Minnesota would take a dead cap hit of $4,350,000 while saving $5,100,000 in available salary cap space in 2021-22. If the Vikings were to part ways with the seasoned pass catcher after June 1st, 2021, the team would encounter a dead cap hit of $1,450,000 in 2021-22 and a dead cap hit of $2,900,000 in 2022-23. The Vikings would then save an even $8,000,000 in available salary cap space in 2021-22.
With a veteran quarterback in Kirk Cousins still at the helm up in Minnesota, for now at least, the Vikings have a prolific offense — a unit that can no doubt be successful for years to come. In addition to the aforementioned Smith Jr. at the tight end position and Cousins under center, the Vikings offense is led by bruising running back Dalvin Cook paired with a tandem of talented wide receivers in Adam Thielen and soon-to-be second-year player Justin Jefferson, who had quite the rookie season in 2020-21. Simply put, Rudolph is not needed in the offensive equation in Minnesota any longer as the Vikings remain pretty well equipped with talent down line.
Focusing on the tight end position, Smith Jr. is still only 22 years old while the Vikings originally selected him with the No. 50 overall pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of the famed University of Alabama. As a rookie back in 2019-20, the up-and-coming tight end tallied 36 receptions, 47 targets, 311 receiving yards and a trio of touchdowns while appearing in all 16 regular season games. However, it is worth noting that he was mostly playing behind Rudolph at the time before going on to take on a more prominent role for the Vikings in 2020-21. Over the course of 13 regular season games this past season, Smith Jr. posted 30 receptions, 43 targets, 365 receiving yards and most importantly a handful of scores.
Definitely on an upward trajectory, the Vikings shouldn’t fully gamble on Smith Jr. alone, though the former Crimson Tide standout should be given the opportunity to become the team’s top target at the position. Pairing Smith Jr. with another veteran tight end wouldn’t be the worst idea either, though this option can no doubt come at a much cheaper price than Rudolph, who has seen his role within the team’s offense decrease each year.
There is a slim chance of the Vikings competing at a high level in 2021-22, so reversing course might be the best option for the middling NFC North franchise for now.