Longwell’s Release Leaves A Spielman-Shaped Mark

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.