Friday, February 27, 2015
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ryan longwell

Last offseason, the Vikings drafted kicker Blair Walsh which generated collective groans from Vikings fans that felt it was a waste.  About eight days later, after Walsh showed up in good health to the rookie minicamp, the Vikings released long-time kicker Ryan Longwell.  Walsh then went on to have one of the greatest seasons, as a rookie, of any kicker in franchise history.

Fast-forward to this offseason, after the Vikings selected punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of the Draft, and even the biggest Chris Kluwe supporters has accepted what was going to happen following this year’s rookie minicamp.

The Vikings expectedly released Kluwe.

“So long, Minnesota, and thanks for all the fish!” Kluwe proclaimed on Twitter.  The “fish” reference comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy book series, which serves as just one more reminder of the culture and humor Kluwe brought to his fans over the years.

“Thank you to all the fans, my teammates, and the Wilf family for the past 8.5 years. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” his tweets continued. “And thank you everyone for your support. Remember, one label does not define who you are as a person :)”

Kluwe met with Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier for about five minutes on Monday, where he was informed of his release, and he was not provided any specifics on the reasoning.  Of course, plenty of attention will be drawn to the fact that the Vikings released the most vocal gay rights advocate in professional sports only days after the NBA had a player announce his sexuality on the national stage and thanking Kluwe by name.

The truth is, however, that Kluwe is on the wrong side of 30 and was owed a sizeable salary for his position.  There is nothing about how Rick Spielman has gone about rebuilding this roster that should suggest Kluwe’s activism had anything to do with his release.  Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Cullen Loeffler are currently the only members of the team over the age of 30.  Prominent veterans like Longwell, Antoine Winfield, and Steve Hutchinson have been shown the door in similar fashion under the new management structure.

“Chris has meant a great deal to the Vikings both on and off the field in his eight seasons here,” said Rick Spielman in a statement. He contributed to many victories and we wish Chris and his family the best and thank him for his contributions to the Vikings organization. Out of respect to Chris, we decided to release him now and allow time for him to sign with another team.”

The outspoken punter has plenty of off-field endeavours that include a rock band, a pseudo-professional video game habit, and advocacy efforts for numerous causes.  The one that has drawn the most attention has been his support of equal rights for gay people, but it would be unfair to the Vikings to construe anything they have ever said as a condemnation of his efforts.

Actually, last season’s comments from Mike Priefer are the only thing I can find in terms of a coach being frustrated with Kluwe, and that came after Kluwe had been fined for using his uniform to protest Ray Guy’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame.

“Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you,” Priefer said on December 13th. “Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there’s other ways of going about it, in my opinion.”

“To me it’s getting old. He’s got to focus on punting and holding,” Priefer continued.

He was then asked if he had shared these sentiments with Kluwe himself.

“Nah,” said Priefer. “He don’t listen.”

Kluwe then embarked on a Twitter campaign to, essentially, chastise Priefer’s comments over the course of about five months.  He was constantly taking to Twitter to sarcastically let fans know just how focused he was on being focused about focusing.  He is a witty guy, and his point was mostly well-received by his followers, but acting out at an employer publically is typically not going to be a smart move no matter who you are.

I most of the important categories, Kluwe can easily be considered the best punter in franchise history, but the Vikings have good reason for moving on.  A run-first team that is about to play two seasons outdoors, where Kluwe has had his struggles, has to consider field position as one of their highest priorities on every single game day.  Locke represents an upgrade, a cheaper and younger upgrade, and Kluwe’s release is another step in a rebuilding process that has produced plenty of heartbreaking moments for many Vikings fans.

 

In a Draft that seemed about as predictable as the Powerball numbers from this week’s drawing, there was little I felt comfortable declaring as a true prediction.  At the very least, most of my Draft-related predictions came with a transparent lack of conviction that should have been an obvious signal to readers that I was feeling unsure on about every level about how the event would play out.

I made sure to let you know that I felt absolutely no confidence in the final version of my mock draft.  It was for good reason, too.  I ended up matching only one prospect to the correct NFL team in the whole damn thing.  If the Colts hadn’t selected defensive end Bjoern Werner, I would have gotten a big old goose egg on the mock draft front.

Even though I had been predicting for a long time that the Vikings would select linebacker Manti Te’o if he was available, I went out of my way to chastise 1500 ESPN writer Patrick Reusse for making an absurd claim prior to the Draft.

“It is a 100 percent certainty that the Vikings will wind up with Te’o,” wrote Reusse in a column that has been long forgotten by most readers and for which he will never be held accountable for, not that he should be.

Outside of betting Brett ten thousand dollars, at one point, that Dee Milliner would not go to the Jaguars #2 overall (waiting for that check, Brett) I just wasn’t feeling real sure about anything regarding the Draft.  I was always astonished, given the nature of this year’s class, how many people were willing to use absolutes in discussing what was going to happen on Draft Weekend.

There was one thing, however, that should have surprised absolutely nobody.  I had been predicting it with conviction all offseason long and took every opportunity possible to bring it up in talking with Vikings fans.  I was even spouting off about it during all three days of our live Draft Chat this weekend.

I was 100% positively, unequivocally certain the Vikings would replace punter Chris Kluwe in this Draft.

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In 2009, despite the disgust from many fans and at least one hack blogger, Brett Favre joined the Minnesota Vikings and provided some of the most memorable moments in franchise history.  Months after that faithful game in New Orleans, Favre appeared set to retire for good.

So, what changed his mind?

“First of all, the money was too good,” Favre recently said on NFL Network. “The money was too good, and I hate to say it’s about money. But, you know, I felt the money was a lot.”

It is hard to remember all of the twists and turns of the circus that was the 2010 season, but I remember clearly the day that reports surfaced that Favre texted that Favre was hanging the cleats up for good.  In the middle of training camp, with Tarvaris Jackson taking reps as the starter, the Vikings brass pulled together on the field and found a way to raise Favre’s salary.  A trip in Zygi Wilf’s private jet was taken by Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson, and Ryan Longwell in an attempt to bring Favre back into the fold.

The whole thing was a mess and it should have been a sign of things to come.  The 2010 season turned out to be one of the worst (and weirdest) in franchise history, and Favre claims he knew the magic from 2009 wouldn’t be regained.

“Now, that’s not to say I didn’t give my all,” Favre said. “It just wasn’t to be, and I think I knew that. I really know it now.”

I’m not one to pull punches when it comes to ragging on Favre, but I can hardly blame him for playing another NFL season for over $16 million.  Being on a losing team may not be much fun, but most people would do much less enjoyable jobs for that kind of money.

Competition.

It is widely regarded as the best thing to have at any given position this time of year, but the Vikings have none at the kicker position and do not plan on bringing any in.

The Vikings drafted Georgia kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round of April’s NFL Draft, subsequently waived veteran Ryan Longwell, and it appears that the team’s Special Teams Coordinator could be tying his fate to that of his new rookie kicker.

Mike Preifer had a number of conversations with Walsh at the Scouting Combine, he put Walsh through a pre-Draft workout, and watched a lot of film.  According to Judd Zulgad, Preifer thinks he knows why Walsh missed those 14 field goals as a senior and wants to coach this kid into a premier NFL kicker.

“He was rushing every kick,” Priefer said of Walsh’s senior season. “Every kick he missed, he hit them well, but he was much too fast with his get off time. I don’t know if that was what he was coached to do, maybe that’s what he wanted to do. Usually you watch the ball get snapped to start (the) approach. I have him watching the holder’s hands. When the holder lifts up his left hand, that’s when he’s going. That’s what I’ve been coaching for years.”

“You’re not giving the holder time to even give you a good hold and that’s another part of the deal,” continued Priefer. “You want to make sure that the holder can get it down, on the spot with the laces, with the tilt that he wants. He couldn’t get that last year when he goes too fast and even here we’ve had to slow him down a little bit. I don’t mind him being slow right now in that we can get him back up to where we need him by the season.”

According to Zulgad, Walsh made 14 of 15 field goal attempts during the Wednesday and Thursday minicamp sessions.

“Every situation they’ve put me in has been good,” Walsh said of the practices. “We did some last-minute situations last week and we executed them well.”

Walsh also seems plenty open to suggestions from Preifer and understands the pressure that is going to be placed on him at the NFL level, both on the field and from a business standpoint.

“Football is a pressure-packed sport,” he said. “Especially being a kicker. There are certain instances where you’re the only guy on the field that’s performing at that certain time. Whether it be a kick or a (point-after attempt). But it’s a pressure situation and if you’re not ready to handle it you probably shouldn’t be playing. You’ve got to enjoy it and realize that it’s still a game and while it’s very important you’ve still got to have fun with it.”

“Ryan (Longwell) left big shoes to fill, that’s for sure,” Walsh said. “I’m just trying to come in here and focus in on what I’ve got to do for game one and go on from there. Those two guys have been great helping me. They’ve been professional about it like I expected they would. They couldn’t have handled it any better.”

So, does Preifer think that handing the job to a rookie without any competition is the right way to go about this?

“I think competition is a great thing to be honest with you,” Priefer said. “I don’t mind competition, but I think with what we’re trying to accomplish with Blair and the chemistry between Cullen, Chris and Blair, to me, is extremely important. If we had another kicker in camp, I think you’re going to share that a little bit. I don’t think he’d be worried about the competition. I wouldn’t be worried about competition because he’s been very successful kickoff-wise. He’s got a big-time leg. I wanted to make sure that field-goal wise we have the chemistry between those guys rolling even before we got to camp. I think we’re doing a good job in that respect.”

So, in this case, the team is aiming for chemistry over competition.  That is not the conventional way to go about things at this point in the offseason, but it is hard to argue that it makes sense…

After all, the job was pretty much Walsh’s to lose from the moment his name was announced in April, and that hasn’t changed.

I wasn’t all that surprised when the Vikings decided to select a kicker in the 2012 NFL Draft.  I wasn’t surprised that they cut Ryan Longwell.

Most surprising to me, however, was the timing of the move to waive Longwell.  That timing, as General Manager Rick Spielman explains it, was a matter of respect for Longwell.  Spielman wants to give him the best chance possible to find a good fit with another team.

“We felt that Ryan deserved an opportunity to go out and get employment instead of waiting through training camp,” said Spielman.  “Once we made the decision to go with Blair [Walsh], it was the only fair thing to do with Ryan, to give him an opportunity to potentially get hooked on with another team instead of waiting until the end.”

Spielman also indicated that the decision to move on from Longwell was one that was made when he gained full control of the roster.

“I think it all goes back to when we started our whole process of evaluating our roster back in January, when we started our meetings and evaluating everybody on our roster and making those difficult decisions on, like I said, some very good veteran football players,” Spielman said. “It makes it even more difficult because of the type of people they are as well.”

Longwell has always been a class act, at least until he came to his senses and left Green Bay (wink), and I look forward to seeing him kick a game winner or two in 2012… as long as it isn’t against us.

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