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Updated: July 28th, 2014 4:22pm
Kyle Rudolph's extension allows for future cap flexibility

Kyle Rudolph's extension allows for future cap flexibility

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by Andrew Krammer
1500ESPN.com

MANKATO, Minn. -- NFL teams have become adept at signing top players to long-term contracts that don't force the organization into paying out the life of the deal. 

That's the case with Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who signed a five-year extension worth up to $40.5 million on Sunday night. The extension makes Rudolph the fifth-highest paid tight end in the league with a minimum of $36.5 million, just more than former Norv Turner tight end Antonio Gates and just below San Francisco's Vernon Davis. 

However, ESPN's Ben Goessling explains Rudolph's nearly $20 million "guaranteed" isn't all guaranteed. Depending on how the team spreads the 'guaranteed' money across the life of his contract, which runs through 2019, Rudolph will only see $12 million of that if he's still on the roster after the third day of the given league year (or years) -- or if he's injured.  

The New Orleans Saints took a similar route with tight end Jimmy Graham and his four-year, $40 million deal. Graham is guaranteed $13 million in the first year of his deal (more than if he were franchise-tagged as a receiver this year), but he'll only see his 2015 salary and $5 million roster bonus if he's still on the team, per OverTheCap.com. The Saints could cut him after this year and take just the pro-rated signing bonus hit to their cap, per OTC.

Rudolph, 24, has $1.5 million less in guaranteed money than Graham, as Goessling points out, as both contracts allow the players to see free agency again when they're around 30 years old (or sooner if cut). 

The extension was essential for Minnesota to keep Rudolph from hitting the free agent market this offseason -- especially if he thrives under Turner's system as tight ends typically do. Rudolph's value only increased after Chase Ford broke his foot and the team cut John Carlson this offseason.

Rudolph was the team's clear-cut top free agent heading into 2015.

The Vikings now have every major player under contract through next season, with only Brandon Fusco, Jerome Felton and Jamarca Sanford to worry about in terms of previous starters. Having no established, successful quarterback to command a top salary helps the Vikings build around the cadence caller.

The Vikings' guaranteed money in the Greg Jennings contract also ends after this season.
 
Jennings' cap hit rises to $11 million from 2015 to 2017, however the nearly $9 million of that in base salary per year is not guaranteed, per OTC. 

Director of football operations Rob Brzezinski has structured multiple Vikings contracts in a similar fashion, with the guaranteed money tied up in the first two seasons, which is now typical in the NFL.

Defensive end Everson Griffen's deal he signed this offseason sees his $19.8 million guaranteed coming in both the 2014 and 2015 base salaries and his $6 million signing bonus. Linval Joseph's $12.5 million in guaranteed money is also tied up in 2014 and 2015 base salary, roster bonus and signing bonus.

As is the case with Rudolph down the road, the Vikings only have to pay Joseph, Griffen and Jennings their top dollar after the guaranteed money is up if their play warrants the base salary. 

In 2016, tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith are free agents, but it appears the Vikings haven't handcuffed themselves to prevent those would-be extensions. 

Andrew Krammer covers the Minnesota Vikings for 1500ESPN.com. He previously covered the Gophers men's basketball team for the Minnesota Daily.
Email Andrew | @andrew_krammer
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