As we discussed earlier Monday, the Minnesota Vikings drafted Georgia place-kicker Blair Walsh to mount a serious challenge at incumbent Ryan Longwell. That intent was clear based on how coach Leslie Frazier spoke about the situation during last weekend's rookie minicamp.
But I can't say I thought the Vikings would release Longwell on Monday, presumably handing Walsh the job before a competition could ensue. Longwell received nearly $5 million in total compensation last year as part of a new contract he signed 10 months ago, a sum that suggested the Vikings were committed to him for more than one season.
It's true that Longwell took a step back in 2011, missing more field goals -- six -- than he had in his previous two seasons combined. Yes, he'll be 38 in August. But my thought on kickers has always been to ride the reliable ones until they can't drag their legs onto the field. Longwell is nowhere close to that point, and it's reasonable to think he can still be a reliable performer at a unique position that teams can struggle for years to fill.
The Vikings must have seen enough from Walsh during rookie minicamp to convince them it was time to add Longwell's name to a growing list of veterans they have ousted in the past two years. By my count, only six of the 24 players who started the 2009 NFC Championship Game -- including kickers -- are still on their roster.
Why did the Vikings spend so much money to retain Longwell last season only to cut him 10 months later? I guess we chalk it up to the lack of a broader vision -- they clearly misjudged how close they were to competing -- that presumably has been solved by the promotion of general manager Rick Spielman.
I get wanting to move on past a 38-year-old player, especially when you're getting as young as the Vikings are trying to get. But sometimes place-kickers deserve their own rules when it comes to roster movement. We'll see if the Vikings jumped the gun on this one.