The Vikings made the easy, sane and proper decision Monday, cutting rookie kicker Daniel Carlson and signing highly accurate veteran Dan Bailey.
I would have downgraded to “probably” had a kicker of Bailey’s esteem not been available, but a 30-year-old who is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history is a no-brainer. He’s made 88.2 percent of his career field goals, including 90 percent when kicking indoors. He is an obvious upgrade over Carlson and an upgrade, too, over last year’s kicker, Kai Forbath. In short, he’s a proven commodity and provides the potential for the stability craved by drafting Carlson. If he kicks well, Bailey could be with the Vikings for another half-dozen years, at least.
In the aftermath of this whole mess, though, this question could still use some examining: When the Vikings drafted Carlson in the fifth round this year, making him the clear favorite and heir apparent to succeed Forbath, was their mistake in choosing a kicker — period — instead of augmenting another position of need … or was their mistake simply in picking a kicker unfit for the job? (Or, as we’ll examine last, was it not a mistake at all given the potential that Carlson will rebound from this and become a prolific kicker who makes the Vikings regret Monday’s decision?)
*On the first point, the evidence seems clear: drafting a kicker is a risky proposition.
I looked at kickers drafted in the past, and the results are spotty — at least not for the drafting team.
Between 2013 and 2017, eight placekickers were drafted. Five of them were on opening day rosters this year, but only one — Zane Gonzalez of the Browns, a 2017 fifth-round pick — was still with the team that drafted him. And Gonzalez is now out of a job after an awful performance Sunday that rivaled that of Carlson.
The other four — Jake Elliott, Harrison Butker, Caleb Sturgis and Dustin Hopkins — were either training camp cuts who latched on and found success with other teams or bounced around after initial stints with the team that drafted them.
That seems to be the opposite of stability when it comes to drafting a kicker.
*That said, a deeper dive into history shows that drafting a kicker can be a prudent move.
Greg Zuerlein has been a mainstay for the Rams since being taken in the sixth round in 2012 (though he was injured Sunday).
The Packers took Mason Crosby in the sixth round in 2007, and he’s been their kicker ever since then.
And lest you think the Vikings are truly crazy for drafting and going with a rookie kicker in a Super Bowl-or-bust season, remember that the Patriots chose Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round in 2006 and had him replace playoff legend Adam Vinatieri. Gostkowski has worked out more than just fine and is still the Patriots’ kicker (though Vinatieri is also still kicking for the Colts at age
Going back further, you have Sebastian Janikowski, Jason Elam and Jason Hanson, all high draft picks who gave the teams that drafted them many years of dependable kicking.
So maybe taking a kicker isn’t crazy. You just have to pick the right one.
*Did the Vikings cut bait with Carlson too quickly?
Wait! You’re laughing too hard to read. Reset yourself. OK, let’s explain:
Plenty of good kickers have had rough patches. Janikowski, for example, started his Raiders career 8 of 15. Gostkowksi missed three of his first six tries as a rookie with the Patriots. Crosby has become far more accurate with age than he was early in his career.
The problem with Carlson is that it doesn’t seem like technique is the issue. He admitted Sunday that by the time he lined up his third (missed) kick, his confidence was shot. The Vikings (and their fans) have all sorts of fresh scars left over from a kicker who lost his confidence (Blair Walsh), and they just signed a guy who is more than just a stopgap replacement.
Bailey could be the new Ryan Longwell, the kicker the Vikings signed in 2006 who stopped their revolving door and gave them six solid years before they drafted Walsh and endured six years (and two games) of far more turbulent kicking.
It’s also certainly possible Carlson will resurface with another kicking-needy team or win a camp battle, learning from his crisis of confidence and rebounding to have a great career.
Let someone else figure that out. And hope, if you’re the Vikings (or a fan) that Bailey is good and we don’t have to talk about drafting a kicker for a long time.