Kyle Rudolph and the Carolina Panthers? The pros and cons of trying to sign him

Alaina Getzenberg
·4 min read

One of the biggest pieces missing from the Carolina Panthers offense last season was an impact receiving tight end.

Ian Thomas led the Panthers tight ends with 20 receptions for 145 yards and one touchdown in 2020. Thomas was supposed to be the replacement for Greg Olsen, but no one on the roster has shown the ability to step into those shoes. Another tight end, Chris Manhertz, is also slated to be a free agent when the new league year begins.

The Panthers have options to address the issue this offseason, and one of those is through free agency. One notable name became available Tuesday night when the Minnesota Vikings released Kyle Rudolph as a cap casualty. He was in line for a continued reduced role in Minnesota.

Rudolph, a former second-round pick, had a 10-year career with the Vikings and is known for his reliability as a pass-catcher and his impact off the field.

Could he make sense with the Panthers? Let’s take a look.

The case for signing Kyle Rudolph

Adding a veteran tight end to the team would certainly have its perks. With Matt Rhule noting at the end of the season how the Panthers need to get younger on offense, bringing Rudolph into the mix could be welcome locker room presence.

Sorting out the quarterback situation remains a priority for Carolina, but no matter who is throwing the football, having in a player who has caught more than 70 percent of his targets each of the past four years would be a plus. He’s the kind of player teams should want to put around their young quarterbacks. That reliability was missing from the offense last year.

Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings catches a touchdown pass against Shaq Green-Thompson #54 of the Carolina Panthers in the 3rd quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings catches a touchdown pass against Shaq Green-Thompson #54 of the Carolina Panthers in the 3rd quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Since 2015, Rudolph is tied for the third-most receiving touchdowns among tight ends (31, with Eric Ebron and Jimmy Graham) and has the seventh-most receiving first downs by a tight end (179). Per Pro Football Focus, Rudolph has the lowest percentage of catchable passes dropped since 2017 (1 percent).

Rudolph has also stayed relatively healthy. From 2015-20, he only missed four regular season games (all in 2020).

If Teddy Bridgewater is still on the Panthers roster when the 2021 season begins — and that’s a sizeable if — Rudolph would be joining his former Vikings teammate in Carolina.

One other note on Rudolph’s fit: He is known around the NFL for the work he does off the field. The tight end was a nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award three straight times (2017-19) because of his work with a children’s hospital in Minnesota.

The case against signing Kyle Rudolph

At 31-years old, the Panthers would be getting a tight end closer to the tail end of his career. While he still believes he has plenty to contribute to a team, Rudolph’s production has declined and his targets dropped steadily in 2019 and 2020.

For a team that is trying to get younger on offense, the Panthers’ signing a veteran player like Rudolph would be a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Tight end should still remain an option in the draft.

The other potential flag on signing Rudolph is his value weighed against his price tag. There will be multiple teams interested in acquiring his services, which could start a bit of a bidding war. Carolina created more than $25 million in cap space recently, but investing in a tight end over 30 years old may not be the best way to spend a significant portion of that money with so many other holes to address. It’s nice to pair players with team needs, but sometimes practicality wins out, instead.

Conclusion

Kyle Rudolph could certainly fit with the Panthers. It’s worth keeping an eye on, and the team should be, at the minimum, interested. The tight end draft class is not particularly deep after Florida’s Kyle Pitts, who could go among the top 10 picks. And tight end is a position Carolina needs to address in some form or fashion.

But Rudolph isn’t the first and won’t be the last cap casualty as teams pare down their rosters ahead of the start of free agency. He would certainly fill a void, but a cheaper free agent option and the draft may be the more logical long-term solution.