With a fairly average $7.4 million in cap space and one rookie (third-round RB Jerick McKinnon) left to sign, it's natural to start wondering which of the current Minnesota Vikings will be in line for a contract extension.
At the top of that list would seemingly be TE Kyle Rudolph. He's been to the Pro Bowl already, following the 2012 season when he was the MVP of that all-star game. And his role could be even bigger this year with Norv Turner taking over as the offensive coordinator and his history of exploiting his most talented players.
So has there been any movement on a new contract for Rudolph, whose 2011 rookie deal is set to expire after the 2014 season?
"No. Nothing yet," Rudolph said last week. "So it's something that I'm sure when the time comes, we'll get it done. It shouldn't be something that takes a long time. But as of right now we're just waiting around and my mindset is just go out and have a great year and all that stuff will take care of itself."
In 2012, Rudolph was the second-leading receiver for the Vikings – both in receptions and yards – behind Percy Harvin. The tight end had 53 catches for 493 yards and easily a team-leading nine touchdown grabs. But 2013 presented problems for him.
With new receiving talent added to the team via the draft (Cordarrelle Patterson) and free agency (Greg Jennings), and with injury ending his season prematurely, Rudolph's numbers fell significantly. He finished fifth on the team in receptions (30) and sixth in yards (313).
Midway through the schedule, his season was over. He suffered a fractured foot on a 31-yard touchdown play against the Dallas Cowboys in the eighth game of the season and wouldn't play again. He was inactive for the next five games, and when the Vikings didn't see enough progress in his recovery, he was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
So, Rudolph knows why the Vikings haven't approach him and his agent about an extension just yet.
"New coaching staff and I had my foot. I wouldn't pay myself if I hadn't seen me before I came back – we'll put it that way," he said. "But we've been around them for a little while and I feel great running around. But that's in their hands. When the time comes, we'll be more than happy to do it. But all I can do is focus on going out and having a great year this year and all the contract stuff will take care of itself."
Of course, the injury issue likely will play a factor in Rudolph's extension one way or another. He entered the NFL after a serious hamstring injury suffered at Notre Dame, meaning two of his three seasons as a pro have been affected by injury or recovering from a previous injury.
But the potential is obvious when he is healthy, both as a player that can be detached from the formation or as a prime red-zone threat.
But how will it all come together in a contract?
New England's Rob Gronkowski has the biggest contract among tight ends, averaging $9 million per season. Rudolph likely would be looking for money in the second tier of tight end contracts that average about $7 million per season, including those held by Dallas' Jason Witten, San Francisco's Vernon Davis, San Diego's Antonio Gates and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham.
Meanwhile, Rudolph remains patient and without public statements demanding anything be worked out with a target deadline.
"That's something that when the Vikings are ready, we're ready to listen. It'll happen when it happens," he said. "That's not really something I can worry about. Do I want to be here? Absolutely. I love it here. I love what this organization is building, the future with the new stadium and hosting a Super Bowl."
In order to be around during the 2016 opening of the new stadium or the 2018 Super Bowl it will host, an extension or re-signing in free agency will be necessity for Rudolph, and it's something he genuinely seems interested in working toward.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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