EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Chris Kluwe could see the writing on the wall when it came to his time with the Minnesota Vikings.
On Monday, Kluwe thanked the Vikings’ fans, breaking the news he’s been released following an expected meeting with the team on Monday, a day after the team’s rookie minicamp concluded. The team confirmed the move hours later.
“So long, Minnesota, and thanks for all the fish!,” Kluwe wrote on his Twitter page (@ChrisWarcraft). “Thank you to all the fans, my teammates, and the Wilf family for the past 8.5 years. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”
Going on KFAN radio with Paul Allen just an hour after he revealed the news on Twitter, Kluwe was thankful for the opportunity to spend eight years with the Vikings organization, adding it was more than most people can say.
“I had eight great years with the Vikings,” Kluwe said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m going to miss my teammates. I made a lot of friends.”
Following the pattern Minnesota used last year with rookie kicker Blair Walsh replacing veteran Ryan Longwell, the Vikings released Kluwe a day after seeing how rookie punter Jeff Locke handled the team’s minicamp. Minnesota used a fifth-round pick to select Locke in the NFL draft a week earlier, a signal that Kluwe’s eight-year tenure as the Vikings’ punter was likely to end.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman said after the draft that the plan was to have Kluwe compete with Locke. But it seemed a strange notion after the team used the fifth-round pick on Locke. The Vikings’ were very successful last year with Walsh replacing Longwell, as Walsh set several team records and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Kluwe’s outspoken nature has many wondering if Minnesota made the move because of his public activism, a notion Spielman shot down after the draft.
“This was just another normal personnel move, it had nothing to do with Chris Kluwe’s off-field concerns,” Spielman said. “I have no issues if Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinion. That’s his right. That’s his freedom of speech. This is just a football decision to bring in a guy to come in and compete.”
Kluwe revealed that he could “read between the lines” when Minnesota drafted Locke, but didn’t know whether the decision had to do with his performance or off-field demeanor.
“I don’t know, I’m not in those meetings. I don’t know what happened there,” Kluwe added. “It’s one of those things where I guess they wanted to go in a different direction. That’s the nature of the NFL, that happens.”
Kluwe, who’s received increased public attention in recent months for his outspoken stances on political issues, including same-sex marriage rights, is one of the best statistical punters in Vikings’ history.
Kluwe, 31, owns the Vikings’ best career gross punting average of 44.4 yards-per-punt and is second in team history in net average (37.3). But after a somewhat tumultuous season in which Kluwe struggled at times and which even he acknowledged as “average,” Kluwe gained more attention for his off-the-field persona. Kluwe set a career-high with a 39.7-yard net average last season and his 45.0-yard gross average was the third-best of his career.
“For me, it’s like Talladega Nights, if you’re not first you’re last,” Kluwe noted. “My numbers were statistically good. I would have liked them to be better because I always want my numbers to be better. I always want to be that first-place person.”
During a mid-season slump, Vikings’ special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said “those distractions are getting old to me” when Kluwe was speaking up for former Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame when Kluwe wore a self-designed patch in support of Guy over an NFL patch on his uniform during a game.
Kluwe has also been a proponent for same-sex marriage rights, joining legislation to combat California’s Proposition 8, which has gone to the United States Supreme Court. Kluwe also earned attention for a scathing letter he wrote on the website deadspin.com against a Maryland delegate who had chastised the Baltimore Ravens and their outspoken linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo.
For Kluwe, the only regret he had in the past eight years was not making a Pro Bowl.
“I would have liked to make the Pro Bowl once, but I was an alternate a couple times. I did what my coaches asked me and to me that’s more important than going all-out for individual stats.”
Kluwe likely will have a chance to catch on elsewhere, telling KFAN he still felt he had a good four or five years left in him and thanking his Twitter followers for supporting him.
“And thank you everyone for your support,” Kluwe tweeted. “Remember, one label does not define who you are as a person :).”