The Minnesota Vikings would do well to bring in another punter to compete with Jeff Locke in training camp.
The Vikings have brought in multiple relatively low-cost free agents in hopes of creating healthy competition at a variety of positions, including right tackle, right guard, center, safety and Will linebacker.
While this approach may not be very exciting to fans pining for “splashy” free agent signings, Rick Spielman believes that this is how you identify solid starters while also building depth that can be called upon in the event of injury (via Scout.com):
"“The one thing I want to do is create as much competition as possible,” Spielman said. “If you can create competition, either guys are going to rise up or they’re going to get beat out. We also have to be conscientious of what’s coming down the road in ‘17 and ‘18 as we have some of these young guys that will be entering the last year of their deals that we will be looking to extend as well.”"
Spielman hit on all the good reasons for not spending a ton of money on a few free agents but instead spreading that money around to multiple players. This approach can work provided you have a core of top talent around which to build. The Vikings do appear to have that solid core of young players.
Now I’d like to see Spielman take his “competition is good” approach to roster-building all the way out to its logical conclusion and sign a punter to push Jeff Locke in camp.
Spielman said it himself, “If you can create competition, either guys are going to rise up or they’re going to get beat out.” If that applies to right tackle, right guard or Will linebacker, why shouldn’t it apply to punter?
The argument could be made that punter was one of the weakest positions on the entire team in 2015. Check out what Pro Football Focus had to say about Locke in their recent round-up of offseason needs for the Vikings:
"Since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, Jeff Locke has been the worst, worst, and second-worst graded punter in the league in his three seasons. His 41.6 gross average and 37.8 net average were the second- and fifth-worst in the league in 2015, and his 26 punts downed inside the 20 were just the 22nd-best in the league."
You don’t even need PFF grades to know Jeff Locke is a bad punter, the eye test gets the job done in this case. We’ve watched Locke for three years. He has no touch. He has no consistent ability to pull off directional kicks. He boots too many balls into the end zone for touchbacks.
Locke’s badness would not be that big a deal if the Vikings had a high-powered offense, but the Vikings do not have a high-powered offense, the Vikings are a play-defense-and-control-the-ball sort of team. The style of football the Vikings play doesn’t just require a good punter, it demands a good punter.
No one is saying “cut Jeff Locke,” even though I think it would be totally justifiable to cut Jeff Locke. All I’m asking Spielman to do is follow his own rule. Apply his stated reasoning to the punter position the same way he applies it to all other positions where he doesn’t have a locked-down obvious starter.
It’s not asking that much, just to bring in another punter and have a real competition. It’s perfectly in keeping with the doctrine Spielman has been willingly and openly espousing. Let’s find out if Spielman really means it.