EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When the Minnesota Vikings drafted a kicker in the sixth round two weeks ago, the writing appeared to be on the wall for incumbent Ryan Longwell.
Longwell, 37, who has the second-most points among kickers in team history with 633, was cut Monday after Minnesota added Georgia’s Blair Walsh. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman indicated Wednesday that it was a decision a few months in the making.
“I think it all goes back to when we started our whole process of evaluating our roster back in January, when we started our meetings and evaluating everybody on our roster and making those difficult decisions on, like I said, some very good veteran football players,” Spielman said. “It makes it even more difficult because of the type of people they are as well.”
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Longwell is coming off a down season by his standards after hitting on just 22 of 28 field-goal attempts (78.6 percent). He was 38 of 39 on extra-point attempts and finished with 104 points. Longwell, who is 13th in league history with 1,687 points, had never finished a season converting less than 83.3 percent of his field-goal tries since coming to Minnesota as a free agent from the Green Bay Packers in 2006.
Since being promoted to general manger in January, Spielman has tried to turn over the aging Vikings’ roster with younger players. Longwell was an unexpected casualty, though. He had missed three field-goal attempts total in 2009 and 2010 and was set to enter the second year of a four-year contract this season.
Longwell thanked the fans in Minnesota via Twitter on Monday before the team’s official announcement.
“To all in Viking Nation,” Longwell tweeted. “Can’t thank you enough for your cheers over the past 6 years! You’ve been awesome to me and my family. God Bless!”
Longwell had three seasons and $7 million left on a four-year contract he signed last summer that included a $3.5 million signing bonus. He was part of a veteran purge that included the likes of guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin.
Instead of having Longwell compete with Walsh in training camp, Spielman said the Vikings released the 16-year veteran this week to allow him the opportunity to sign elsewhere.
“Those are the decisions that are tough ones to make,” Spielman said. “It’s like we had to make a couple other very tough decisions earlier, back in March when we started off. Again, I think our emphasis has always been trying to get our team better, get it younger, and that’s the direction we kind of went. It just fits in with everything else we’re kind of honed in on this offseason.
“We felt that Ryan deserved an opportunity to go out and get employment instead of waiting through training camp. Once we made the decision to go with Blair, it was the only fair thing to do with Ryan, to give him an opportunity to potentially get hooked on with another team instead of waiting until the end.”
Walsh was Georgia’s kicker each of his four seasons with the Bulldogs and finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in Southeastern Conference history. However, he made just 21 of 35 field goals as a senior.
“We understood the reasons why,” Spielman said of Walsh’s troubles last season. “There was a lot of things that went into that a little bit, and just looking at some technical things and maybe rushing through some of the stuff. But you look at the history, he was a 90 percent kicker most of his career since he’s taken over. And the kickoffs are exceptional from all the work that we’ve done on him. He did have a down year his senior year, but we felt very confident that we can bring him along.”
Vikings still looking at free agents: Spielman confirmed the team brought in former Washington Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh for a workout this week and said he is always searching for ways to improve the team.
McIntosh, 29, would help provide further depth at linebacker and has experience playing inside and outside.
“We worked out Rocky yesterday and we’ll continue to monitor that as we go,” Spielman said. “Looking at signing (Marvin) Mitchell was a big signing for us, and getting Erin (Henderson) back and Jasper (Brinkley) coming along. I know he’s coming off his hip, but he’s looked very well. We’ll continue to monitor, not only that position, but every position as we go through this and more people are getting released. We’ll have more workouts coming up for sure.”
Signings coming soon: Other teams have started to announce the signings of several draft picks, but Minnesota is still in the beginning stages of contract talks. Spielman said things will likely pick up when the rookies come back into town next week for more workouts.
“Yeah, I’ve talked to our ownership and Rob Brzezinski, who is our lead negotiator, and we’ll probably get started on that process when the rookies come in,” Spielman said. “Hopefully we’ll have most of them signed before training camp. We have to. I don’t anticipate any holdouts.”