Quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns are coming off a successful season that saw them win a playoff game and go toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Browns finally achieved their goal of making the playoffs — something they hadn’t done since the 2002 season — they aren’t going to be content with just doing that. They are going to potentially try to improve their team even more. Well, while rumors will most likely surround the Browns all offseason, one is pointing to Mayfield potentially getting a new weapon in the passing game. That potential weapon is former Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings released tight end Kyle Rudolph
The Minnesota Vikings selected Kyle Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft out of Notre Dame. After earning a Pro Bowl selection in 2012, a season that saw him catch nine touchdown passes and help lead the Vikings to the playoffs, Rudolph became a consistent weapon in the Vikings’ passing game starting in 2015.
Rudolph caught 49 passes that year for 495 yards but then had the best season of his career in 2016. He ultimately caught 83 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns that season. Rudolph then earned his second Pro Bowl selection in 2017, as he gained over 490 receiving yards in every season from 2015 through 2018.
However, Rudolph only gained 367 receiving yards in 2019 and then only 334 in 12 games in 2020. The Vikings have since released Rudolph after 10 seasons. Releasing him saved the team $5.1 million against the cap in 2021, according to ESPN.
“I got so lucky, because — I didn’t just get drafted by some team who ‘had a need at tight end,'” Rudolph wrote in The Players’ Tribune, according to ESPN. “I didn’t just get drafted as, like, the nameless, faceless ‘#1 tight end on the board.’ I got drafted by a team that was all set in terms of need … but then drafted me anyway.”
He continued: “I’ll always remember that: how the Minnesota Vikings wanted me — and wanted to bet on my potential.”
So, where could Kyle Rudolph land?
Rumors are linking Kyle Rudolph to the Browns
According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Rudolph reportedly would love to play for Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. From 2006 through 2019, Stefanski was a part of the Vikings’ coaching staff. He worked his way from assistant, to assistant QB coach, to tight ends coach, running backs coach, quarterbacks coach, and then to offensive coordinator in 2019. Stefanski and Rudolph were reportedly close in Minnesota.
The Browns don’t necessarily need a tight end, as they have Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant. However, Njoku reportedly wanted to be traded before the 2020 season began, according to Cleveland.com. He also reportedly wanted to be traded before the trade deadline.
So, if Cleveland decides to move on from Njoku, Kyle Rudolph –who was born and went to high school in Ohio — could be a real option for the Browns in 2021.
Kyle Rudolph could be pretty valuable for Baker Mayfield and the Browns
Austin Hooper is the featured tight end in the Browns’ offense, as he caught 46 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns in 2020. However, Njoku and Harrison Bryant both gained under 250 receiving yards this past season. Rudolph could certainly be an improvement over that.
He could also potentially help younger guys like Hooper and Bryant within that Browns’ offense, as he is already familiar with it from his time working with Stefanski in Minnesota.
Sure, Baker Mayfield already has a ton of weapons on the Browns’ offense. He has Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Hooper, and then his running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Even without Beckham for most of the year, that offense was good enough to score 25.5 points per game and help lead Cleveland to the playoffs. Getting a little more help from Rudolph could lead to that offense becoming even more successful. His leadership within that offense could prove to be crucial, too.
There will be rumors surrounding the Cleveland Browns this entire offseason, as they potentially look to improve their team. Kyle Rudolph can ultimately be one of those pieces to help Baker Mayfield and the Browns improve in 2021, too.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference