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The Ravens should sign Kyle Rudolph ahead of free agency

The Ravens could address one of their top needs before the new league even starts.

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

One of the less-heralded but still primary needs for the Baltimore Ravens’ heading into the new league year on March 17 is at tight end where they have a Pro Bowler Mark Andrews and blocking specialist Nick Boyle as the only locks to make the 2021 roster.

Last season, General Manager Eric DeCosta was unable to find a proper replacement for 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst after trading him to the Atlanta Falcons in March. His absence was noticeable and his presence in the passing game especially was sorely missed.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman was forced to make do with what he had at his disposal and after Boyle went down in Week 10, he had to get even more creative. He supplemented Hurst’s limited yet vital role with a collaborative effort from Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard and some free agents signed off the street during the season.

Adding another pass-catching threat at tight end to round out the position group and take some of the pressure off of Andrews over the middle, down the field, and in the red zone needs to be a priority for the front office this offseason.

As unrestricted free agency draws closer, so too does the list of notable names hitting the market as salary cap casualties due to a COVID suppressed salary cap.

One veteran that is currently in search of a new team and just so happens to be the exact kind of player that the Ravens are looking to add their tight end depth chart is two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph. His tenure with Minnesota Vikings came to an end on Tuesday after a decade with the team and two years after he was signed to a four-year extension worth $36 million.

The writing has been on the wall for a couple of years dating back to the selection of Irv Smith Jr. to be his eventual successor in the second round out of Alabama two years ago.

However, it ultimately came down to his high cap numbers not matching his on-field production coupled with his unwillingness to take a pay cut. Minnesota has been in a perpetual state of cap hell recently that they are now looking to rectify without having to completely rebuild.

While Rudolph’s production in recent years hasn’t been elite, it is right on par with what the Ravens got from Hurst in 2019 when the offense was clicking on all cylinders.

In his second and final year with the team, Hurst hauled in 30 of his 39 targets for 349 yards and two touchdowns in 16 regular-season games, and in the playoffs, he caught four of his six targets for 53 yards and a score. Rudolph caught 28 of his 37 targets for 334 yards and one touchdown in 12 games for Minnesota last season.

Putting up gaudy receiving yardage stats has never been Rudolph’s forte but being an excellent red-zone target and sure-handed possession receiver is where he has been at his best. He can still offer quality depth with a high upside to a team like the Ravens.

He doesn’t possess the same explosiveness or vertical ability as Hurst but he would provide Lamar Jackson with another reliable big-bodied target in the passing game and is a capable in-line blocker.

The unrestricted free agent tight end market isn’t robust. Top targets like Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Jared Cook will have plenty of suitors lined up as soon as the legal tampering period is allowed to commence.

The Ravens signing a seasoned veteran like Rudolph who is coming off a down year ahead of both free agency and the draft makes perfect sense for three very important reasons. It likely won’t cost much, it wouldn’t affect the compensatory pick formula, and it would address a need. If Baltimore signs Rudolph they won’t be forced to reach in the draft, rely too much on a rookie, or wind up short-handed for the second year in a row.