Kyle Rudolph in Denver Broncos - Minnesota Vikings
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The Minnesota Vikings announced on Tuesday that the club has decided to release veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph. The 31-year-old has spent his entire 10-year NFL career with the Vikings after the club selected him in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. While Rudolph had three more years left on his contract, this move clears roughly $5 million in cap space for Minnesota heading into an offseason where the salary cap is expected to dip due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Irv Smith Jr. emerging on the roster, it also frees Rudolph up to find a club able to give him a more prominent role while the Vikings have a suitable successor in-house. 

While the news was first reported by the NFL Network, Rudolph himself was quick to confirm his release via a lengthy and thoughtful tribute to his time in Minnesota in a letter posted to The Players' Tribune. Rudolph talked about how it was such a privilege to play for the Vikings while thanking ownership, the coaching staff, his teammates, and the fans for the dedication throughout the decade he was in Minnesota. His one regret was not being able to help take Minnesota over the hump to win a Super Bowl. 

"I want to thank Vikings fans everywhere. I won't go too long with it, because I like to think you know me pretty well by now, and you know what I stand for," Rudolph wrote. "But I just want to say two main things. One: I truly love you guys, and am so grateful for the support you've given me during my time here. It changed my life. And two: I really am sorry that I couldn't help deliver a Super Bowl. I'd give just about anything to change that … and it pains me to be turning this page with any business left unfinished. But I think the team is in awesome hands. And when — not if, when — the Vikings finally win one, I'll be first in line to say congratulations. Nothing in the world would make me happier. (As long as it's not against me!!)

"And then the last thing I want to say, is that this is a thank you — but it's not a goodbye."

Vikings brass also released a number of statements in the aftermath of Rudolph's release. Head coach Mike Zimmer said it has been an "honor to coach" Rudolph over their last seven seasons together and wishes "him and his family nothing but the best."

"From the moment we drafted Kyle as a young man out of Notre Dame in 2011, through his 10th season with the Vikings in 2020, he has been one of the premier tight ends in the NFL and most influential and positive leaders I've ever been around," Vikings GM Rick Spielman said in his statement. "Kyle and Jordan have made such an immeasurable impact on our team and community that may never be matched. The energy they have invested in the community, most notably through the End Zone at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, is truly remarkable. I admire Kyle, and we will miss him and his family. We sincerely wish them the best."

Rudolph will likely go down as one of the greatest tight ends in team history. He finishes his tenure in Minnesota fifth all-time in receiving touchdowns (48) and receptions (453) and is tenth on the franchise's all-time receiving yards list (4,488). 

From here, Rudolph is added to a pretty deep tight end free agent pool that also consists of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith