Decision To Draft Punter Should Perplex Nobody, Including Kluwe

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.

I mentioned it in talking about prospect Ryan Allen.  I mentioned it again when I profiled Brad Wing.  I told you during the hours preceding free agency not to expect a punter to be signed… because the Vikings would do it during the Draft.  I even made the case for drafting a punter on somebody else’s site, at the risk of never being invited back.  When news broke that the Vikings got to know at least three punter prospects prior to the Draft, I declared it all but a done deal.

That is why I could not believe the reaction that ensued when the Vikings selected UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round this past weekend.  Sure, I’m no punter evaluator and never predicted Locke as the guy they take, but the reasons were so obvious for taking the best punter available this year.  Obviously, since no other punters had been selected by that point, the Vikings got the guy they considered to be the best in a very strong class of punters.

Outside of the normal football fanbase and Vikings beat writers, the Vikings punter has gaggle of his own supporters and followers because of his off-field endeavours.  Immediately, the big question everyone seemed to want answered, was whether or not Kluwe’s campaign to have gay people treated equally had anything to do with his assumed release.

Now, I assumed that there were enough logical people out there that could see the obvious football related reasons for this move, but if they were there they were certainly outnumbered by those that assumed it was Kluwe’s personal life that caused the Vikings to seek a successor.  Kluwe himself showed a shocking level of naivety in an interview with 1500 ESPN, which surely did little to keep his supporters from getting riled up.

“Again, I’m not a front-office person, so I don’t know if that played into it or not,” Kluwe said in the interview. “It’s one of those things where you hope it wouldn’t be a factor, because the NFL is supposed to be about just what you can do on the field.

“You’ve got guys in the league that have committed crimes,” he continued.  “You’ve got guys that have been arrested. That hasn’t seemed to slow anyone down. It’d really be a shame if me speaking out for equality was what got me cut. I think that doesn’t say a lot of good things about the nature of football.”

The truth is that the football-related reasons for making this move were plentiful enough, that it doesn’t even matter how his special teams coordinator felt about him personally, this was a move that is more than justified from the business end of things.

Kluwe ended the 2012 season on the injury report and had to have a minor knee surgery conducted following their playoff loss to Green Bay.  At age 31, he is now entering the final year of his current contract and is set to make $1.4 million.  By finding a replacement, and paying that guy a rookie wage, the Vikings free up about a million in cap space that can be used to help find much needed help at other areas of the roster.

They get younger, healthier, and cheaper at an important position.  There is nothing about how the Vikings have operated in the last couple of years that would indicate this move is unusual in the slightest.  Just ask Antoine Winfield.

Kluwe got to see this all play out a year in advance when the Vikings selected Blair Walsh in 2012 and immediately jettisoned longtime placekicker Ryan Longwell.  The move was a wild success and just another reason we should have expected the Vikings to try for the repeat.

Despite having some very respectable end of the season numbers to point out, Kluwe’s latest season was inconsistent, and it can be argued that the Vikings upgraded the position by selecting Locke.  In October of last season, Kluwe’s production got so noticeably bad that I ended an article by writing this:

If his production doesn’t match his pay pretty soon he may not even reside in Minnesota any longer, let alone impact the political landscape.  He may have to figure out how to attend band practice via Skype, and he probably won’t be employed by the local radio station very long.

Football is far more likely to impact his personal life, rather than the other way around.

In the end, I think that last sentence turned out to be an astute statement (even blind squirrels…) and it is about to become a reality.

Like Locke, Kluwe was a product of UCLA.  He went undrafted, however, and signed with the Vikings after being unable to stick to Seattle’s roster.  He has spent his entire career with the Vikings and built quite a life for himself in Minnesota that includes numerous professional, amateur and personal endeavours.

We’ll never know if his personal life played a part in his eventual demise with the Vikings, but we knew a long while ago that his football life was about shake up his personal life.

And, now that the writing is on the wall in permanent ink, Kluwe may have to decide between his routines as a father, band member, gamer, author, advocate, and radio personality or taking his show on the road as an NFL player.

His decision could end up being very telling.