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Kyle Rudolph released by Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings move on from TE Kyle Rudolph, likely giving Irv Smith Jr. the starting job in 2021.

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) catches a pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This spring in the NFL doesn’t look like it will be a great one for some veteran players. The salary cap will increase as usual, but not at previous rates due to the cash flow slowdown brought about by COVID-19. That means veterans on back-heavy contracts will likely be let go to free up cap space. They could end up re-signing with their old teams, but at a discount from their original contract.

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is one of the veterans whose time was coming and it was made on Tuesday, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The Vikings will save $5.0 million against the cap but that comes with $4.4 million in dead money.

The writing was on the wall for Rudolph, who was surpassed in target share by Irv Smith Jr. last season. Smith said he didn’t want to be relegated to blocking, as he believes he can still contribute offensively.

Fantasy fallout

Rudolph’s departure appears to be a nice boon for the athletic Smith. If the Vikings end up giving Smith the bulk of the work, he will easily be a Top-10 tight end in their offense. His upside will be cut by the strong offensive playmakers around him, including Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, but even without being a Top-2 target on the team, he will still be a strong fantasy play at a weak fantasy position.

Rudolph’s fantasy upside will likely be low moving forward in his 11th season, but will depend completely on his landing spot.

Possible destinations

Rudolph appears interested in playing with his old offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski with the Cleveland Browns, per Mary Kay Cabot. He’s also been linked to the New England Patriots, according to Doug Kyed. There would likely be less competition for targets in New England, and more fantasy upside, but he should still have plenty of suitors for his blocking and sure hands as he moves into his 11th season in the NFL.