Six possible Kyle Rudolph landing spots after Vikings reportedly fielded interest for tight end during draft

With the 50th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings didn't just select tight end Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama. They also signaled the beginning of the end of the Kyle Rudolph era. 

According to ESPN's Courtney Cronin, the Vikings "fielded interest ahead of/during the draft about a possible trade involving Rudolph." Even if they don't move him this year, the Vikings will likely let him walk in free agency next offseason.

The Vikings could very well keep Rudolph around in 2019. After all, they're supposed to be in the middle of their Super Bowl window with Kirk Cousins, it'll take some time for their rookie tight end to adjust to the NFL, and it's not like they can't deploy two tight ends at once. But the Vikings also might decide they want to free up some much-needed cap space for a player who will depart a year from now. They could even cut him. There's no way to know for certain how the Vikings will proceed. It could depend on the offers they get from potential suitors and Rudolph's willingness to rework his deal.

Teams in need of a starting tight end should be intrigued. While Rudolph, 29, isn't as dominant as the league's top-tier tight ends (he's no Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz), he does offers capable hands and solid blocking. Over the past four years, he's played in all 64 possible games and averaged 63.3 receptions, 625.2 yards, and six touchdowns per season. Since he entered the league in 2011, he ranks 10th in catches, 12th in receiving yards, and fourth in touchdown catches among all tight ends. Due to his age and contract situation, he likely won't be expensive. He's unlikely to cost more than a middle- or late-round pick. 

With that in mind, we decided to take a look at some potential landing spots that could make sense for Rudolph if he's traded or cut. Let's begin in New York. 

6. Jets

Is investing in a 29-year-old tight end a wise move for the Jets, who are probably a year or two away from seriously contending? Nope. But these Jets have shown a willingness to overpay for good players as they target immediate success. They gave running back Le'Veon Bell the mega-deal he desired. They were willing to give Anthony Barr a lot of money to play a position he hasn't really played since his college years before Barr changed his mind and went back to Minnesota. They paid linebacker C.J. Mosley. They're behaving like a team that wants to win in the short-term. 

So, why wouldn't they make a move for a quality tight end who won't be expensive in the trade market? It's not like money is an issue. Chris Herndon, a fourth-round pick last year, flashed potential with 39 catches, 502 yards, and four touchdowns. But the two of them could co-exist on the same offense for a season. 

It all comes down to how the Jets view their team. If they think they're ready to compete for a wild card spot in 2019, it's a move that could make sense. If they're more realistic and understand that they're a year or two away from seriously competing, they should pass on a 29-year-old tight end who is scheduled to become a free agent next season.

5. Seahawks

The Seahawks have continually demonstrated awareness of their problem at the tight end position. They paid a huge price for Jimmy Graham back in 2015, but that trade never worked out the way they envisioned (though Graham certainly had his moments in Seattle). Much more recently, in a far less important trade, the Seahawks acquired Jacob Hollister from the Patriots for a seventh-round pick. But Hollister isn't anything more than a developmental prospect who shouldn't be expected to contribute in a major way this year.

As it stands, the Seahawks' starting tight end like will likely be Nick Vannett followed by Will Dissly. So, they could use an upgrade. Add in the expected loss of Doug Baldwin (he's reportedly facing early retirement due to injuries), and the Seahawks would be wise to add another pass catcher for Russell Wilson. Even though they drafted three receivers, those receivers shouldn't be expected to suddenly become elite players at their position. It's not an easy adjustment, as rookie receivers so often remind us

There's an argument to be made that Rudolph is a better fit for the Seahawks than Graham ever was because Rudolph can contribute as a blocker and the Seahawks love to run the ball. Cap space also shouldn't be an issue.

4. Jaguars

The Jaguars clearly love running the ball and Rudolph is the kind of tight end who can support that aspect of their attack. More importantly, he could be an important pass catcher for Nick Foles because as it stands, Foles is lacking reliable targets in Jacksonville. Dede Westbrook and Marqise Lee are the team's top two receivers. And at tight end, they have Geoff Swaim, who joined the Jaguars after a 242-yard season with the Cowboys, and Josh Oliver, a third-round rookie who shouldn't be expected to become an instant impact player. 

Foles is used to have Zach Ertz. Rudolph isn't Ertz, but he'd be a clear upgrade over Swaim and he's a capable enough blocker to aid the Jaguars' running game.

3. Raiders 

Should the Raiders be adding a 29-year-old tight end? Probably not. But this is team that probably thinks its closer to winning than it actually is. 

They traded for 30-year-old Antonio Brown and went on a spending spree in free agency. Despite their influx of talent, they got worse at tight end, losing Jared Cook to the Saints. Considering how much they depended on Cook a season ago (896 yards and six touchdowns), they should probably find a better way to replace him. Lee Smith and Derek Carrier aren't adequate replacements, especially after factoring in Derek Carr's preference to check the ball down instead of standing in the pocket against pressure and waiting for his targets farther downfield to get open.

If the Raiders were to trade for Rudolph, their offense would feature the following playmakers:

That would do. And Carr would be out of excuses.

2. Texans

The Texans won 11 games last season despite not having an offensive line or getting reliable production out of the tight end position. Deshaun Watson, who got sacked 62 times, relied almost exclusively on receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who accounted for 1,572 of the team's 4,165 receiving yards. Second on the team in receiving? Will Fuller, who finished with 503 yards in a seven-game season. So, the Texans would be wise to diversify their offense in 2019 -- not that they should stop making Hopkins a focal point, of course.

Right now, the Texans' starting tight ends are Ryan Griffin and Jordan Thomas, a duo that combined for 520 yards last season. The Texans did draft Kahale Warring out of San Diego State in the third round, but like most rookies drafted in the middle rounds, he shouldn't be viewed as their immediate savior. He'll need time to acclimate before he's ready to make an impact. And the Texans can let him develop behind Rudolph for a season before Rudolph moves on in free agency.

The Texans have a ton of cap space, are operating in win-now mode with J.J. Watt aging and Watson on his rookie deal, and have a clear need at the position. That makes them a possible landing spot. 

Oh and then there's this: According to Sharp Football Stats, the Texans used 12 personnel (one back, two receivers, and two tight ends) 40 percent of the time last season. No team used 12 personnel more. 

1. Patriots 

If you expected another team to top this list, you haven't been paying attention to the events of the offseason. 

The Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement. So far, the only move they've made to replace Gronk's production is signing Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has never exceeded 357 receiving yards in a single season during his five-year career. They didn't draft one of the Iowa tight ends like many expected them to. So, they have a clear need at the position. And the Patriots are certainly a team operating in win-now mode and can also afford to part ways with a mid-to-late pick in a future draft.

It's not that Rudolph would be able to replace Gronk's production. There's not many -- if any -- tight ends who could. But Rudolph is the best available option. And that's the key part, of course. He might be available. It's the kind of Patriots trade/signing that would cause the rest of the league to collectively groan as they wonder how a quality player landed with them in May to fill such an obvious hole. And for what it's worth, our John Breech did suggest Rudolph as a possible trade target for the Patriots before the draft. Nothing has happened since to make it a bad idea.

It's not like Rudolph's arrival would result in the Patriots casting aside Seferian-Jenkins. This is a team that has demonstrated in years past (but not this past season) its desire to use multiple tight ends at the same time. Suddenly, in the same offseason that saw them lose Gronk, a quality tight end is available. The Patriots now just need to decide if they want to capitalize on his availability.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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