Monday, October 5, 2015

ryan longwell

After a long day of work, I was expecting to settle into my laptop and try to motivate myself to write about my two least favorite subjects to cover:  Stadiums & Politics.

Of course, that is all big and important news, but luckily there is some actual football activity to discuss, as well, albeit bitter-sweet.

As Brett mentioned earlier, Ryan Longwell was released by the Vikings and he made a very gracious statement to fans about his time in Minnesota.

Now, on the surface, the move can make little sense.  He has been a special teams captain.  He has been a leader.  He has been one of the most reliable field goal kickers in the NFL.  He has been classy.  He is charitable.

He has been a very well liked Viking for six seasons.

Plus, last offseason, the Vikings gave Longwell a four year deal worth $12 million, with $3.5 million in guarantees.

However, as I eluded to back in February (I even mention Blair Walsh by name), the writing has been on the wall for a while now.

Longwell is a 38 year old kicker on a team that is rebuilding.  His kickoffs averaged 64.8 yards (21st in the NFL), his 19 touchbacks (23rd in the NFL) were a career high but mainly the result of a rule change, and his 79% field goal accuracy (26th in the NFL) were all stats that suggested that not only was Longwell’s leg strength beginning to greatly lack but that his skills were also degrading in general.

There is an old adage in NFL front offices that goes something like this: “It is better to give up on a player one year too early than one year too late.”

The Vikings had the chance, last offseason, to part ways with Longwell at exactly the right time but instead will be parting with him one year too late.

Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN, suggests that the move to extend Longwell last offseason was possibly a result of Leslie Frazier still having a say in the final roster and now that Rick Spielman has full control he was able to impose his will on the kicker position.

Zulgad calls it a reminder that Spielman will not hesitate to “retool” this roster regardless of what it means for the win column in 2012.

I would argue that the move makes sense for not only the future, but for 2012, too.  The Vikings may not be able to rely on the young Blair Walsh on clutch kicks until he proves otherwise, but they should put their defense in a much better position on a regular basis via Walsh’s strong leg pinning opponents deeper into their own territory.  The stronger leg will help the field position battle on a regular basis, which will help both the offense and the defense, and the hope will be he can eventually also develop into a trustworthy field goal kicker.

The Vikings should probably sign another kicker to provide Walsh with some competition, and to have another leg for special teams reps in training camp, but it is clear that the Vikings feel confident in his abilities to replace Longwell not only in the future, but right now.

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In a somewhat surprising move, according to ESPN 1500, the Minnesota Vikings have released veteran kicker Ryan Longwell

Longwell, who is generally regarded for his accuracy, struggled in the 2011 season only making 78.6% of his field goal attempts. That coupled with the fact that Longwell is nearing the end of his career while the Vikings organization is attempting to make the team younger probably led to his release.

It is assumed that Longwell will be replaced by rookie Blair Walsh who was drafted in the sixth round of this year’s draft. While many knew that there would be some sort of competition between the two, Longwell’s quick release seems to have caught a few off guard.

Ryan Longwell is a class act and we at Vikings Territory wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.

We will keep you all updated as more details of Longwell’s release are made available by the team.

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll mention it again:  If the Vikings get the chance to find a young talented kicker and preemptively replace Ryan Longwell they should pounce.

It appears they are doing their due diligence with one of this Draft class’s best legs.

On Tuesday, the Vikings will meet with Missouri Western kicker Greg Zuerlin.  This will be the second time the Vikings have met privately with Zuerlin.

Zuerlin led the nation in field goals made per game with 2.3 and also broke NCAA and MIAA records by making 21 consecutive field goals.  During a recent private workout with the Bengals Zuerlin impressed onlookers by nailing a 57 yard try.

Amazingly, Zuerlin was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this offseason, so his pro day and private workouts are likely to warrant plenty of attention.

[NOTE FROM ADAM:  This is the final installation of my position-by-position breakdown of the Vikings offseason.  You can click the links to view previous installments:  The Passers, The Runners, The Wide Outs, The Tight Ends, The Offensive Line, The Defensive Tackles, The Defensive Ends, The Linebackers, The Cornerbacks, and The Safeties.]

This is the shortest and quickest of my Offseason Preview because I really only focus on three roster spots.  That isn’t to say that long snapper, kicker, and punter aren’t important positions… there just isn’t a whole lot to talk about here.

In fact, I will keep this really short.  So short, I won’t even add the little “read more” tab that takes you to a new page.

Long snapper Cullen Loeffler signed a four year extension on October 7th and then a crack back block cracked his back in November and he landed on injured reserve.  Matt Katula was signed to replace him on special teams but was awful.  Loeffler’s surgery on his back is said to have gone well, and he will be back in plenty of time for the regular season.  Katula is set to become an unrestricted free agent and is highly unlikely to get a job in Minnesota again.  The Vikings may, however, decide to sign a long snapper to join them in Mankato after evaluating Loeffler’s health in August and to make sure he stays rested.

Punter Chris Kluwe had an average length per punt of 45.7 yards which was 19th in the NFL.  His net average on those punts (i.e. where the ball was downed) was only 38 yards per attempt which dropped him down to 26th in the NFL, but blown assignments on the coverage team accounts for plenty of that yardage.  He placed 22 punts inside the 20 yard line, which ranks 19th in the NFL, and 19 of his punts were fair caught which is good for a ranking of 12th.  Despite ineptitude on offense, Kluwe only punted 77 times in 2011 which was 16th among all NFL punters.

Overall, Kluwe was getting decent hang time and distance on his punts for another season, and will almost certainly be back for 2012.  He is entering the sixth year of his seven year contract and will earn $1.3 million.  The team has way too many pressing needs to mess around with the punter position, so the social media tycoon will be back at it.  He is also a pretty decent holder on place kicks.

Rick Spielman has not made it any secret that he wants this roster to get younger.  Those looking at the roster with a reasonable amount of logic expect them to trim some fat by cutting or restructuring expensive veterans.  Ryan Longwell’s production at kicker dropped way off in 2011.  So why isn’t his name being thrown around as somebody who might be on the chopping block?

Last offseason the Vikings inexplicably committed (this didn’t come out until later in the season) $12 million over four years to a 37 year old kicker that was clearly losing leg strength.  $3.5 million of that contract is guaranteed.

Longwell had a kickoff average of 64.8 yards (21st in the NFL), managed a career high 19 touchbacks (23rd) thanks to the NFL rule change on kickoff position, and attempted only one onside kick which failed.

Longwell was given the contract extension mainly because he was the league’s most accurate field goal kicker over the previous two years, but that was not the case in 2011.  He made only 79% of his field goals (26th in the NFL), was two for three from beyond 50 yards, and even missed on an extra point.

Partly due to reputation and partly due to his contract, I do think Longwell will be back, but the Vikings shouldn’t keep themselves closed off from other options.  Connor Barth (age 26), Matt Prater (28), and Josh Scobee (30) would all represent younger options with stronger legs should they become unrestricted free agents.  Also, with the Vikings expecting to have a bunch of late round picks, a guy like Blair Walsh of Georgia or Randy Bullock of Texas A&M might fit right in with the Vikings long term rebuilding plans.

In the end, however, I suspect we will see zero turnover in these three positions.  Expect Cullen Loeffler, Chris Kluwe, and Ryan Longwell to be your specialists once again in 2012.

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