The Minnesota Vikings will open the season with their fourth different kicker in four seasons. Who is to blame for the team’s inconsistency?
The Minnesota Vikings find themselves in yet another undesirable kicking situation this year. After using a fifth-round pick in 2018 to select Daniel Carlson, and then to only waive him after two games, the Vikings acquired kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik from the Baltimore Ravens last week for a 2020 fifth-round draft pick.
Vedvik, an undrafted free agent from Marshall, signed with Baltimore in 2018 but wound up on the reserve/non-injury list after he was assaulted in public prior to the regular season.
With kicker Dan Bailey struggling during this year’s training camp and punter Matt Wile unable to hold for kicks because of a thumb injury, it’s anyone’s guess as to what role Vedvik will end up with on the Vikings’ 2019 roster.
Based on his debut in Minnesota’s second preseason game, it looks like he might be competing for the punting job. Still, it’s not unprecedented for the Vikings to have one player pulling double duty as both the kicker and punter.
With the normal convention in the NFL for the punter to hold on field goal and extra point tries, it is interesting to see the Vikings trying out several players in this role. There’s no way Vedvik, Bailey, and Wile all make the team’s final roster this year and if Vedvik winds up doing two jobs, someone will need to take over the holding duty.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Minnesota’s roster will look following the final cut-down date on August 31.
No matter who gets the nod at kicker, it will be the fourth straight year that the Vikings open the regular season with a different kicker.
Only between 2002 and 2006 has Minnesota used more kickers. This included Gary Anderson’s last season with Vikings, Aaron Elling, Morten Andersen, and Paul Edinger each kicking for a single season before Ryan Longwell joined the team in 2006.
During the existence of the Vikings, 25 different players have lined up to kick field goals. The current franchise leader in scoring, Cox, handled the duties of kicking off and converting field goals over 15 seasons.
From the third year in existence in 1963 until 1977, no other kickers were employed. Since then though, the longest any kicker has remained with Minnesota is six seasons—Longwell from 2006 to 2011 and Fuad Reveiz from 1990 to 1995.
So when exactly might one pinpoint the start of the Vikings’ kicking woes?
Perhaps it began with the most soul-crushing miss in franchise history—that came on January 17, 1999.
During the 1998 regular season in which the Vikings finished 15-1, Gary Anderson, in his first year with the team, made all 35 field goals he attempted. He followed that with four straight field goals in the playoffs before missing a 38-yard attempt in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship. That miss helped the Atlanta Falcons remain in the game and eventually win in overtime.
In the 37 seasons before Anderson kicked for the Vikings they used a total of 15 kickers. That averages to 2.46 years per kicker. Excluding the replacement players for three games in 1987, the average improves to 2.64 years per kicker.
In the 17 seasons since Anderson played in Minnesota, the Vikings have employed nine kickers. That is an average of 1.89, meaning a new kicker every two years.
Of course, blaming the kicking woes on some fluky curse based on arguably the biggest miss in franchise history is ridiculous. There is no direct causation between the two and therefore it should be dismissed outright—right?
A more feasible explanation might be that current Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer hates kickers. That might be a little strong. However, as a long-time defensive coach who watches his players bust their butts on the field only to then see a kicker, typically in a clean uniform, either steal the glory by making one simple field goal, or lose the game by choking on a single kick.
It’s easy to fathom why Zimmer may have a problem with kickers.
Another fact might be that Zimmer is about to open his sixth year as Minnesota’s head coach with possibly his fifth different kicker—depending on where Vedvik lines up when the season opens.
With four different kickers in five seasons, the average tenure of a recent Vikings’ kicker is only 1.25 seasons. Only the time span mention above has there been more turnover at the position.
Another point that Zimmer is ultimately to blame is how kickers have fared with him around. I say ultimately because as the head coach, all aspects of the team fall to him. Even though in this case, it could be the fault of the special teams coordinator.
In 2012, with head coach Leslie Frazier, the Vikings drafted Blair Walsh. As a rookie Walsh led the NFL with 35 field goals. For the season he converted 92.1 percent on all attempts and a perfect 10-for-10 on attempts longer than 50 yards.
That season, he was named to the Pro Bowl and selected as a First-Team All-Pro. For the two years he played under Frazier, Walsh made 89.7 percent of his field goal attempts, converting 61 of 68 attempts.
In the three seasons with Zimmer as head coach, Walsh’s efficiency dropped to 80 percent, making only 72 of 90 field goal attempts. Whatever Zimmer did to break Walsh followed him to Seattle. In his only years with the Seahawks in 2017, Walsh only made 21 of 29 field goal attempts for a 72.4 percent rate in Seattle.
Another example that suggests the problem lies with Zimmer and the Vikings is the previously mentioned Daniel Carlson. A fifth-round draft pick in 2018 from Auburn, Carlson was one of only two kickers drafted that year.
He won the battle with Kai Forbath and he opened the season as Zimmer’s third kicker in three years. Carlson’s time in Minnesota only lasted for two games After he missed all three field goal attempts in a 29-29 tie at Green Bay, Zimmer made the quick decision to release the young kicker.
Six weeks later Carlson was back on the field and kicking for the Oakland Raiders. In 10 games with the Raiders, he converted 16 of 17 field goals for an impressive 94.1 percent. Whatever Jon Gruden was whispering into Carlson’s ear it worked.
Finally, looking at how current Vikings placekicker Dan Bailey has fared may lend a little more credence to my argument.
In seven seasons with the Cowboys, Bailey converted 88.2 percent of his field goal attempts, making 186 of 211 tries. In 14 games with the Vikings last season, he was only 21 of 28 on his field goal attempts for a 75.0 percent conversion rate.
To be fair, Bailey was also coming off a 2017 season where he only converted 15 of 20 field goal tries and he suffered an injury.
If Vedvik winds up kicking for the Vikings at some point this season, here’s hoping Zimmer stays as far away from the kid as possible and focuses most of his angst on the team’s defense. Otherwise, he may end up creating yet another basket case of a kicker looking for employment elsewhere.