Vikings Kickers, A Look Back
It’s no secret that the recent memories of Minnesota Vikings kickers range from poor to downright painful. The team has been plagued by crucial misses, disappointing prospects, and poor returns on investments with veteran free agent signings. With the team signing last year’s kicker (a mid-season replacement for Carlson) Dan Bailey to another one year contract, let’s take a look back at the teams most recent kickers to see why they failed, and see what the team needs to do moving forward to succeed.
2006-2011: Ryan Longwell
After nine seasons with the Green Bay Packers, a then 32-year-old Longwell signed with the Vikings in 2006. Longwell was very successful with Wisconsin’s pro team and continued to do well after moving to Minnesota, making 86% of field goal attempts. In his span with the Vikings, Longwell was 10th best in the league in field goal percentage. After 96 regular season games and 6 seasons with the team, the Vikings cut Longwell. He signed with the Seattle Seahawks but never played a game for them. Instead, he retired from the NFL in 2013. He has the 17th most career made field goals with 361.
2012-2016: Blair Walsh
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Vikings, Walsh was seen as a young option to replace the aging Longwell (then 37 years old). A senior from the University of Georgia, Walsh had some admirable stats. He had made 184 of 185 extra points, and had the most field goal attempts of any NCAA kicker in 2011. His field goal percentage was only 73.8 percent, but he did have the sixth most made field goals in SEC history, so he was a low risk, high reward draft pick.
Walsh had an outstanding rookie year in 2012, missing no extra points and making a league-leading 35 field goals. He holds the franchise record for the most successful 50+ yard kicks (24), going 10 for 10 in 2012. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and named First Team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He was responsible for beating the Packers in Week 17 of the regular season to get the Vikings to the playoffs. They rematched in the Wild Card round, where he made every field goal and extra point attempt, although the team ultimately lost that game 10-24.
2012 would prove to be Walsh’s best season. In his next four years with the team, he had a field goal percentage of 81%. In his total span with the team, he was 26th in the league in field goal percentage (84.2%).
Walsh is primarily (maybe unfairly) remembered for a missed kick in the 2015 Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks. Scoring all of Minnesota’s points on three field goals (22 yards, 43 yards, and 47 yards), Walsh was tasked with winning the game with another field goal attempt with 0:26 left in the fourth quarter and no timeouts remaining. From 27 yards away, it should have been easy for the senior kicker. He had made 30 of 31 attempts from the 20-29 yard range before this kick. He led the league this season with 34 made field goals. So naturally, Walsh missed. Minnesota’s best season since 2009 was cut short by a 9-10 loss.
Walsh was cut after the 2016 season where he had a field goal percentage of 75% (second to last in the league) and an extra point percentage of 78.9% (last in the league). He signed with the Seahawks, playing one season for them in 2017.
2016-2017: Kai Forbath
After being cut by the Saints earlier that year, the Vikings signed Forbath in November when the team realized Walsh was beyond repair. Forbath, like Walsh, entered the NFL in 2012 where he had an outstanding season. In fact, he led the league in field goal percentage with 94.4% in his rookie year.
Minnesota offered him a second chance in the league following his dismal 2015 season (field goal percentage of 66%) with the Saints. For the Vikings however, Forbath was perfect in 2016. Taking over for Walsh after a Week 10 loss to the Redskins, Forbath made all 15 field goal attempts and 11 of 14 extra points.
2017 was an okay year for Forbath. He was 16th in the league in field goal percentage, making 32 of 38 attempts. It was good enough for the team to re-sign him to a one year, $1M contract that following offseason.
While Forbath had performed satisfactorily during the 2016 and 2017 seasons , he was getting older, turning 30-years-old in 2017. So the Vikings made Daniel Carlson the highest selected kicker in the NFL Draft with the 167th overall selection in 2018. A senior kicker from Auburn University, Carlson was nothing short of astounding in college. He currently has the most points in SEC history, 6th most points in NCAA history, and the second most field goal attempts and makes in NCAA history. He made all 198 extra point attempts. Needless to say, the Vikings had high hopes for Carlson.
Carlson competed against Forbath during the 2018 pre-season and won the job. The team released Forbath before the start of the regular season, placing their trust in the rookie phenom.
That was a mistake. While Carlson made all six extra points for Minnesota, he made only one of four field goals in two games, including an overtime kick against Green Bay that ended the game in a tie. Had he made that kick, or any of his other attempts that game, the Vikings would have been in the playoffs at the end of the season. Head coach Mike Zimmer had no faith in Carlson and he was cut after only two games.
This was also a mistake. Oakland offered the rookie a job and in 10 games for the Raiders Carlson made 16 of 17 field goals and all 18 extra points.
But Minnesota had made their choice, and with no kicker for Week 3 they had to sign someone fast. They elected to go with free agent Dan Bailey. Bailey had spent the previous seven years with the Dallas Cowboys, making 88.2% of field goals and 99.3% of extra points in his career there. He was cut right before the start of the 2018 season (because of back issues), just in time for the Vikings to sign him to a one year, $2M deal.
Bailey had a somewhat rough year, duplicating his 75% field goal percentage he sported in 2017, although he was 30 for 31 on extra points. However, he is still near the top of the NFL kicking leaderboards, with the fifth highest career field goal percentage ever (86.6%).
2019: Dan Bailey or ???
The Vikings seem to be playing it safe at the position this coming year, signing Bailey to another one year deal, this one for $1M. However, Bailey will be 31 this season and despite his previous dominance between the goal posts, he is clearly not a long-term solution.
In the past 15 years, Minnesota has done a great job of acquiring top-level kickers, but they keep squandering that talent. They repeatedly give veterans second chances and don’t give younger kickers time to prove themselves. Longwell did great in Minneapolis, and the Vikes cut him right at the end of his prime for Walsh, a very successful college kicker. Walsh did what he was supposed to, but when he started to slide in 2014 he should have been cut. Instead, the team kept him until 2016 when he was literally the worst kicker in the league. Walsh was replaced by Forbath, a former star who turned out to be a diamond in the rough for the remainder of the 2016 season. It was clear in 2017 that the team could do better, so they drafted Carlson who beat out Forbath for the job in 2018. Carlson was terrible in his first two NFL games, so they cut him, and then he had a very respectable rookie season with Oakland. To fill the gap, they signed the historically good but recently mediocre Bailey. After another season of mediocrity, they have opted to re-sign him for 2019.
However, Bailey’s new contract doesn’t mean much of anything. By re-signing him now, Minnesota is keeping a proven albeit sliding kicker on their roster and out of other teams’ hands. I think there is a strong chance the Vikings (once again) use one of their later round picks to draft another kicker. As I’ve explained, they have no trouble identifying talent, they just don’t know how to use it. But, if they find another all-star prospect like Carlson who can beyond a doubt out-perform a veteran like Bailey, they can then cut him and start the rookie instead, no harm no foul.
I wouldn’t expect Bailey to start for the team next fall, but he does, don’t feel bad. At least we didn’t trade away Odell Beckham, Jr.
As always, special thanks to ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference for all statistics. Please subscribe to our Patreon to get exclusive content and perks, and follow me on Twitter @AdamNelson22_ to stay up to date on all things Vikings! SKOL