Vikings playing the odds by cutting ties with Longwell now

  • Blog Post by: Mark Craig
  • May 8, 2012 - 1:37 PM

By the end of the 2005 season, Adam Vinatieri had already established what should end up being a Hall of Fame career as a place-kicker. He was finishing up his 10th season with the Patriots and had already made 18 game-winning field goals in the final minute of play, including a couple of them in the Super Bowl and one through a snowstorm to win an AFC title game.

Vinatieri ranked fifth in NFL history in career field goal accuracy and clearly wasn't finished as a player. But the Patriots drafted a kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, in the fourth round in 2006. The transition from old to young was made.

Gostkowski made just 76.9 percent of his kicks (20 of 26) as a rookie, but came back to make 87.5 percent (21 of 24) his second season and 90 percent (36 of 40) his third year. Today, he's one of the league's best kickers with a career mark of 84.4 percent.

From 1999 to 2010, David Akers was a five-time Pro Bowler who made the league's All-Decade team despite having to kick outdoors in Philadelphia.

He clearly wasn't done as a player, but the Eagles drafted Alex Henery out of Nebraska in the fourth round. The transition from old to young was made.

Akers went on to San Francisco, where he made a sixth Pro Bowl while setting an NFL record for points by a kicker (166) and extending the mark for consecutive field goals made to 44.

But as good as that season was, Akers wasn't missed in Philly. Henery made 24 of 27 field goal attempts to set the NFL record for field goal accuracy by a rookie (88.9).

If Vinatieri and Akers can be replaced by draft picks on contending teams, we shouldn't be so shocked that Ryan Longwell was released to make room for sixth-round draft pick Blair Walsh on a Vikings team that's rebuilding after a 3-13 season. Longwell turns 38 in August and he's coming off his worst season with the Vikings (22 of 28 field goals made).

Like Vinatieri and Akers, Longwell isn't done as a player. He'll be missed, but the timing makes sense. The Vikings are in an all-out youth movement. The time is now for a rookie kicker to get comfortable and be ready for when the team is a realistic contender in a year or two. The Vikings are playing the odds that replacing Longwell too soon is better than replacing him when he's 40 and the team is ready to win.

Of course, there's also the concern that Walsh is the right guy for the job. He did miss 14 of 35 attempts at Georgia a year ago. But he was a 90 percent kicker before that. We'll just have to wait to see how he handles his situation, which now includes the added pressure of not even having to compete against a 15-year veteran who ranks fifth on the NFL's career accuracy list.

Rookie kickers can often surprise, especially when they get to play 12 of their 16 games indoors, as Walsh will this season. 

Here is a look at how some kickers have fared in their rookie seasons:

Longwell: As an undrafted rookie in 1997, Longwell made 80 percent of his kicks (24 of 30) for a Packers team that reached the Super Bowl.

Jason Hanson: The Lions' 41-year-old kicker made 21 of 26 field goal attempts (80.8) for Detroit in 1992. He's been around so long, the Lions were good at the start of his career and at the end of his career.

Robbie Gould: The Bears' kikcer made a career-low 77.8 percent (21 of 27) in 2005. But he's now one of the league's most reliable kickers.

Mason Crosby: The Packers' kicker made 79.5 percent (31 of 39) in 2007. He made 85.7 percent (24 of 28) last year, and that's remarkable considering his primary office is Lambeau Field.

Ryan Succop: Mr. Irrelevant in 2009 went from the 256th overall draft pick to making 86.2 percent (25 of 29) as a rookie.

Dan Bailey: Henery wasn't the only standout rookie kicker last year. Bailey, who was undrafted out of Oklahoma State, made 32 of 37 attempts for an 86.5 percentage. 

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