MINNEAPOLIS -- What went wrong with Blair Walsh? To claim to have an answer to that question is akin to pretending you know what causes the yips -- a golfing phenomenon so outside the bounds of science, it never acquired an official term beyond the onomatopoeia initially used to describe it.
No one with the Minnesota Vikings had ever pinned Walsh's struggles on anything other than mental issues, and that's what makes the kicker's undoing so tough to understand. Most will argue Walsh had never been the same after his now-infamous 27-yard miss in the Vikings' wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks last January. To be sure, his funk continued in 2016 after the fateful field goal, despite the Vikings' careful attempts to rebuild his confidence -- but he'd gone through worrisome stretches of inaccuracy before that, like his 1-for-6 field goal slump over two games in December 2014, or his six misses in 11 field-goal attempts last preseason.
Whether the cause was paralysis by analysis after the Vikings began a two-year outdoor stint in 2014, the pressures of a contract extension in 2015, the playoff miss in January or something else, it had become increasingly clear by last week that Walsh wasn't going to be able to put it back together in Minnesota. His third missed extra point of the season and his blocked field goal cost the team dearly in an overtime loss to the Detroit Lions, and the Vikings hoped their decision to try out six kickers last week would give Walsh the impetus to snap out of it. Instead, it helped them finalize their short list in case Walsh's issues continued, and his fourth missed extra point of the season on Sunday sealed his fate.
The Vikings had reasons, professional and financial, to stick by Walsh as long as they did. After a subpar final season at Georgia, he wowed special teams coordinator Mike Priefer with a sharp workout before the 2012 draft, and his leg -- along with both of Adrian Peterson's -- became the chief reasons a limited Vikings team was able to go 10-6 and reach the 2012 playoffs. Walsh drilled all 10 of his field goals from 50 yards or more that season and his booming kickoffs were such a constant that the Vikings could stay on top of the field position battle at the Metrodome. He was deadly accurate, sharp-minded and able to rise to the moment -- he bookended the Vikings' regular season with game-winning kicks against Jacksonville and Green Bay and found himself in the Pro Bowl that year.
Even after Walsh missed nine field goals in 2014, there was yet no reason to doubt he would snap out of it, especially once the Vikings moved back indoors in 2016. The team made him one of the league's highest-paid kickers with a four-year, $13 million extension at the beginning of last year's training camp, and still had enough confidence in his physical abilities to bet he'd come back strong from the playoff miss this year.
His physical abilities, though, have never been the issue. Whatever happened to Walsh over the last two years, it had become eminently clear he wasn't going to find the answer in Minnesota. The Vikings, who have just over $900,000 of salary cap space, will have to work out a deal for Kai Forbath under those constraints while Walsh still takes up $1.778 million of cap room this year. The Vikings still owe him $1.5 million in signing bonus cash next spring, and they'll have to count the remaining $1,65 million of bonus prorations against their 2017 cap.
It's a costly switch, and one the Vikings hoped they didn't have to make, but it was the necessary move. The Vikings can get a fresh start with Forbath, while Walsh can hope to catch on with a new team and exit the labyrinth of confidence issues that had ensnared him in Minnesota.