Anyone who has watched the Vikings during the Zimmer era knows that one of the largest weaknesses that this team has had (outside of their play/coaching in big games) comes from the kicking game. Zimmer has never seemed like the type of coach who would coddle anyone, but his disdain for kickers seems to be increasing each season and it’s hard to really blame him as he seemingly spends every waking moment of his life doing his job and in games like the now/instantly legendary first-round playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks in 2015 (or technically in early 2016) he’s had to watch his perfect defensive scheme end up being all for naught as then kicker Blair Walsh, if you hadn’t heard, missed a 27-yard field goal wide left that would’ve defeated a Seahawks team that at the time was being called the “best Wildcard team ever”. Since Walsh the Vikings have tried a few kickers, and while Kai Forbath should’ve kept the gig, the reality is that the Vikes most likely will need a new kicker to go along with their new special teams coordinator by the time the 2019/20 season starts and that kicker should be the (soon to be ex) Patriots go to guy, Stephen Gostowski (unless they decide to reverse course and re-sign Dan Bailey, that is).
Now, I’ve been vocal in my support for the kicker the Vikings had after cutting Dan Carlson early last season, Dan Bailey. However, it sounds like the Vikings aren’t committing to Bailey, who did struggle early on (although some of his misses were objectively not his fault as apparently former special teams coordinator Mike Priefer didn’t ask the Vikings new punter whether or not he could, you know, hold during field goal attempts) but seemed to find his groove as the season went on (which also is to be expected considering he hadn’t played since the Cowboys cut him to save some cap space). Recently hired special teams coordinator Marwan Maloof discussed the team’s loyalty to Bailey, who basically had a few million and the drop from the second to the third most accurate kicker in NFL history to show for his partial season in Minneapolis, at the press conference he held after he was hired a few weeks ago.
“As of right now, all things are on the table,” Maalouf said, according to the Pioneer Press. “We are starting to look at [draft-eligible] kickers and free agent kickers. That’s something that I’ve had good luck with in the past. We have always had good kickers where I’ve been.”
Since then, there hasn’t been a lot out there about what the Vikes are thinking or planning to do in regards to their kicker(s). Sure, there’s been a lot of articles about which NCAA kicker the Vikings should go after, but as we’ve seen from the aforementioned Carlson and Walsh, success in college doesn’t always translate to success in the NFL (although to be fair both Carlson and Walsh were kickers with big legs that struggled in their senior seasons, something that former (thank God) Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Preifer clearly (and wrongly) thought he could fix). Because of that, I’m really, really REALLY against this Vikings team going after a rookie kicker, again.
This is a team that is a few pieces away from making a Super Bowl run, namely offensive line pieces. Using another draft pick (a year after they spent their highest pick for a kicker, yet/ever for Carlson) that could be used on finding some depth at that position (or at the RB2 spot, or at the OLB spot) would, by itself, be another waste and objective roll of the dice. Beyond that, though, we’ve all seen what happens when a rookie/young kicker gets to the NFL. We need someone who has proven that they can kick in the clutch and there’s really no one in the league that has done that more often than the (perhaps) soon to be former kicker from the New England Patriots, Stephen Gostowski.
While he, or Bailey, are more expensive than a rookie kicker, more than any other position in the game the added value of (mostly) knowing what you’re getting from a kicker who has proven their ability over the course of multiple seasons is worth it’s weight in gold as compared to a rookie kicker who could end up flaming out spectacularly as we saw with Carlson or as the Bucs saw when they spent a second rounder on “sure thing” Roberto Aguayo.
If you’re reading this on either purplePTSD.com or BleacherReport.com, you’re a big enough of a fan of the Vikings/NFL to know about what the Patriots have accomplished this century. They’ve been omnipresent in the AFC Championship for damn near the past decade and while Gostowski hasn’t had to be as clutch as his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri (who is still kicking at the age of 46 and is thus arguably been in more clutch situations than Gostowski), he’s clearly been around games that typically come about once a decade for the Vikings and end with all of us processing our grief for the next five years. The Patriots decided not to franchise Gostowski because he’s a kicker, and that means that he’ll at least test free agency to see what the market is for a 35-year-old kicker with one of the best resumes in the history of the league.
Gostowski is coming off of one of his “down” years, as he’s bounced between about 92% completions and the low-to-mid 80 percents his entire career (with the exception of his rookie year (2006) and 2010, where he hit 76.9% of his kicks), although he has hit over 91.7% of his field goals in four of his last six seasons (hitting exactly 84.4% in the other two seasons, including last season). That’s not all that dissimilar to Bailey’s career, with the difference being that the Vikings and Cowboys haven’t played in as many playoff games total during his career/the past decade as the Patriots have in one or two of Gostowski’s seasons. So with Bailey coming off of back-to-back 75% seasons and making just under $2 million from the Vikings (and $800,000 from the Cowboys) in 2018, the question is whether or not the Vikings could afford Gostowski, who made $3.5 million in 2018 from the Pats and could command more in free agency.
The word is that the Vikings are looking at ways to clear up cap space by restructuring some deals and while they’re most likely going to need to find some guards in free agency and at least some depth help before drafting Anthony Barr’s replacement at outside linebacker, it could make sense to invest in a kicker who can make the kicks this team, should everything go according to plan, will need to finally make it to the promised land. After a decade of watching kickers blow it this writer is saying that they should at least try, especially after not going after Robbie Gould when they had the chance (and saw him twice a year for years). If they don’t they could see all of this work ride on the leg of a rookie come next January (or Odin willing, February) and as we know that could very well end up going wide left along with all of our hopes, dreams and in the case of this writer, career choices.