Chip Scoggins
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Kyle Rudolph has made it clear that he won’t accept a pay cut from the Vikings. That doesn’t make him greedy, or disloyal, or a selfish teammate.

It simply means he’s looking out for himself in a ruthless business that offers little in the way of security.

Rudolph signed a contract to do a job that comes with dangerous risks to his brain and body in a profession that treats someone age 30 as a senior citizen. Rudolph has been a productive tight end and an exemplary ambassador for the organization in the community.

Why would he agree to take a dime less than what his contract stipulates?

Yet one doesn’t have to look hard to find fans and commenters who believe Rudolph is being either stubborn or insubordinate for not accepting a reduction in his $7.625 million salary because the Vikings have run out of cap space. That’s not his fault.

Rudolph told the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman last week that “no way” would he take a discounted deal.

“I am too young for that,” he said.

Profootballtalk.com subsequently reported that the Vikings have offered Rudolph a five-year extension that would give him an average salary ranking among the highest-paid tight ends, while also lowering his cap number. The website said the team has not asked for a pay cut.

The fact that negotiations have spilled into public view might reflect frustration that they haven’t reached an agreement. Someone will eventually concede, which could happen any day with organized team activities (OTAs) starting this week. The Vikings desperately need to free up cap space.

The team has every right to trade or cut Rudolph if he doesn’t waiver in his position. But Rudolph also has every right to say no to a pay cut — if the Vikings ask.

It always amazes me when fans side with billionaire owners in these situations that involve a veteran and whether he should take a pay cut. NFL contracts are largely meaningless outside of guaranteed money. Terms and base salaries offer little security because teams can get rid of players at any time. Or squeeze them until they accept a pay cut, knowing leverage is usually a one-way street.

Players of a certain age become desperate to stay in the league and worry about finding another job or starting over in a new place with no guarantees, so they concede and take a pay cut.

Vikings executive Rob Brzezinski is a magician in managing the salary cap, but part of that magic is getting veterans to accept pay cuts. Players who have taken pay reductions in recent years: Everson Griffen, Chad Greenway, Brian Robison and Kevin Williams.

Rudolph’s situation is different. He turns 30 in November so he’s not in the twilight of his career. And the Vikings don’t have a proven replacement behind him.

The team drafted Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round last month, which many presumed would hasten Rudolph’s departure if the two sides can’t find common ground on reducing his cap number.

Two counterpoints: The Vikings should want to see Smith play in an NFL game before assuming he can handle the job from Day 1. And a combination of Rudolph and Smith on the field together in Gary Kubiak’s scheme could be fruitful.

The Vikings finished 19th in the NFL in scoring last season, well behind the top three scoring offenses — Chiefs, Rams and Saints. It’s no secret that in order for the Vikings to return to the playoffs and be considered a serious contender, their offense has to become more productive.

Does cutting Rudolph to save cap space make the offense better? No. The objective should be to add receiving options for Kirk Cousins, not reduce them.

The Vikings have known all along that signing their core group of veterans to big deals in recent years would create serious challenges. This is one of those situations.

Compromise is needed to solve the stalemate, by Rudolph and the team. A short-term extension with guaranteed money still seems like the best outcome for both sides.

Sure, an outright pay cut would be an easier solution, but nobody should fault Rudolph — or any player — for trying to protect his own interests in a cutthroat business.

Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com