MANKATO, Minn. -- The process that led to Kyle Rudolph earning a new contract from the Minnesota Vikings, which culminated in a hug and words of congratulations from general manager Rick Spielman after Sunday's practice, seemed about as devoid of drama and tension as either side could have wanted.
Rudolph made it known at the end of last season he wanted to stay in Minnesota; the Vikings spoke highly of the big tight end and said they wanted the same thing. They hired an offensive coordinator with a history of featuring tight ends; Rudolph responded by taking a more serious look at his offseason nutrition program, dropping 15 pounds and sharpening his technique as a receiver. He said he hoped to get a contract done before the season; the Vikings met with his agents in the Twin Cities on July 15 to begin discussions on a deal.
There seemed to be little chance of the Vikings letting Rudolph get to free agency next spring, not when they had taken him in the second round of the 2011 draft, not when he was one of the only viable candidates for a contract extension before next season. But the toothy smile Rudolph flashed when talking about the contract on Monday let everyone know even an inevitable payoff was sweet.
"Being the organization that took a chance on me out of the draft, being hurt at the time and still drafting me when they did and now giving me this extension, it shows the faith that they have in me," Rudolph said. "Certain people have the opportunity to change your life, and I can't thank Rick and (assistant GM) Rob (Brzezinski) enough for that opportunity."
Now comes the hard part for Rudolph. He will have to play well enough to maximize the value of his contract, which pays him a $6.5 million signing bonus and effectively guarantees his $956,343 base salary in the final season of his rookie deal. The five-year, $36.5 million deal could be worth up to $40 million if Rudolph triggers incentives in the contract, and though another $12 million of the deal is currently guaranteed for injury only, that money will become fully guaranteed by the start of the 2016 league year, coming to Rudolph in separate chunks on the third day of the 2015 and 2016 league years.
But the tight end, as usual, seemed sensible about the contract on Monday. He said he didn't plan to buy himself anything special, adding his only plan was to fulfill a promise to his old strength coach and pay to remodel the weight room at his alma mater, Elder High School in Cincinnati.
As for the Vikings, Rudolph wants to make sure they get a good return on their investment.
"Essentially, if you look at this from a business side, I'm here for the next three years (anyway) because of the last year of my deal and opportunity to be franchised twice," he said. "So they felt like it was important to keep me here for a long time. It instills a responsibility to become one of the veteran leaders in the locker room. We have a lot of young guys on this team and it's weird for me to see that now, four years later I'm one of the veterans in the locker room who have to bring those guys along so we can win football games."