Kyle Rudolph hasn't put up the biggest numbers over the first three years of his career, which is due as much to the Minnesota Vikings' revolving door at quarterback as anything else.
The Vikings have known all along what they have in Rudolph, a big, field-stretching tight end who can be a difference-maker in the right offence with the right quarterback. So now they're paying him like one.
Rudolph signed a five-year contract extension with the Vikings on Sunday night, a sign that the team has big plans for Rudolph in new offensive co-ordinator Norv Turner's offence. The deal, which was first reported by Fox Sports, is worth $36.5 US million with $19.4 million guaranteed. Incentives can push the deal to $40 million.
"I'm very excited to get this extension done with Kyle," Vikings GM Rick Spielman said. "We drafted him, he's done a tremendous job since he's been here. Our whole focus on moving forward in this organization is to draft our players, develop them and keep them here. He's one of our young guys who is going to be a building block as we go forward in the future and just very excited to get this behind us so we can look forward to seeing him produce over the coming years."
Rudolph missed eight games because of a broken left foot last season. He caught 30 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns last year, but was still named to the Pro Bowl and earned MVP honours in the game. His best season came in 2012, when he caught
Rudolph needs to stay healthy
Rudolph was entering the final year of his rookie contract, and the Vikings know what he can do when he is healthy. In 2012, he 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns, just the kind of production the Vikings envisioned when they drafted him in 2011.
Spielman took a little bit of a risk when he made that selection because Rudolph missed the final seven games of his last season at Notre Dame after having surgery to repair a severe hamstring injury. But Rudolph played 31 of 32 games in his first two seasons in the NFL before missing half the season a year ago with his broken foot.
"I've said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota," Rudolph said. "I love the fans, the community and, most importantly, I'm excited about where this team is going. I'm looking forward to the 2014 season and helping this organization reach our ultimate goal."
Rudolph's production to this point has been somewhat hindered by the Vikings' inability to find a consistent quarterback. Rudolph's friend and draft classmate Christian Ponder has failed to live up to expectations and previous offensive co-ordinator Bill Musgrave struggled at times to get Rudolph involved in the passing game.
New head coach Mike Zimmer brought in Turner, considered one of the best offensive co-ordinators of his generation, to run the offence. Turner has had success in the past with great tight ends like Jay Novacek in Dallas and Antonio Gates in San Diego, and he has been impressed early in training camp by Rudolph.
The Vikings also hope to have a much more stable quarterback situation with veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater competing for the job.
"The thing Kyle has done is get up the field and he is running better than he has been in the past," Turner said. "I think he is understanding that we are trying to change his style of running in terms of routes and he is taking to it. I expect him to be a big part of what we do offensively."