John Carlson was on the fence about returning to the NFL this season because of past concussions, but the Minnesota Vikings made the ultimate decision on Tuesday to cut the veteran tight end due to performance and money reasons. Carlson finished just two of the five years that were part of his $25 million contract, and the Vikings will now head into the 2014 offseason with Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford as the team’s three tight ends.
While those three could very well carry the load for the Vikings next season, it’s possible the team looks towards free agency or the draft to accumulate one more at the position. Carlson was expected to have a big role catching the ball when his contract was signed in 2011, but the Minnesota native accumulated just 40 receptions in those two years, with the bulk coming after Rudolph wen’t down with a serious broken foot this past season.
Ellison is the only one of the three tight ends on the roster who is under contract for more than one season, meaning the Vikings will be making some key decisions next offseason regarding the tight end position. Rudolph has looked above average with a competent quarterback under center, but with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner favoring aerial attacks, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings target a raw pass-catching tight end in the upcoming draft.
Although not an immediate need, the talent at the top of the draft is impressive with both Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro projected as first rounders, thus forcing talented tight ends to drop and become available to the Vikings in later rounds. This leaves the Vikings to target the likes of C.J. Fiedorowicz, Arthur Lynch or the troubled Colt Lyerla, all of whom are projected to be available in the third round or later.
The Vikings already have blocking tight ends in Ellison and Ford, but what they need is another pass catcher alongside Rudolph, which is exactly what the previously named prospects provide. Lyerla is the most talented receiver of the bunch, but his off-field issues not only forced him to leave the Oregon Ducks, but also to be labeled with a fifth-round grade despite having second-round talent.
Fiedorowicz has played an active role for the Iowa Hawkeyes the past three seasons, and although not excelling in one specific area, he is a well-rounded tight end with similar upside to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is listed as a second-round selection by many. Lynch is another guy, like Fiedorowicz, who could use more time developing as a pass catcher as the two combined for just 60 receptions this past season, however, a year behind Rudolph could enhance the development of either prospect.
Jimmy Graham is proving this offseason that the tight end is more than just a blocker in today’s NFL, and the Vikings would be smart to embrace this trend and acquire another receiving threat similar to Rudolph. With Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings leading the receiving corps for the foreseeable future, the Vikings should focus on bringing in a versatile tight end that helps in both the passing and running game and makes Rudolph more expendable when his contract expires.