The Vikings' decision on whether to re-sign free-agent Ryan Longwell when the NFL lockout ends might have gotten a little bit easier this week. League owners passed a rule to move kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line, meaning that putting the ball into the end zone on kickoffs no longer should be an issue for the already very reliable field goal kicker.
"Obviously, I was pretty excited when I heard about it," said Longwell. 36. "I think John Kasay [who is 41] actually put it best. He's been trying to get to age 22 again all these years but he can't, so moving it up 5 yards certainly kind of does that for you. All of a sudden the goal line is in reach to open up some strategy stuff ... The way my career has gone, I've been blessed to play this long. I would think that this could give me some more years at the end of this."
Longwell has made 43 of 46 field goal attempts over the past two seasons but has only eight touchbacks in that time. The Vikings went so far as to sign kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd last offseason but ended up cutting him because they felt they couldn't justify keeping two kickers on the 53-man roster.
Longwell said the fact the Vikings have emphasized directional kickoffs also impacted his ability to simply swing away, but this change will alter the approach teams take on kickoffs. It also could eliminate the need for kickoff specialists.
"I certainly don't want to sound like I'm fighting a battle here," Longwell said. "But I think it makes teams think twice about it. There is no doubt from the 35-yard line, when you're kicking in November and December, there's still going to be a bunch of kicks that aren't touchbacks. The percentages show that that's going to be that way.
"The value of having a guy that could get it there from the 30, I'm not sure that you need to spend a spot on game day with a guy up doing that anymore. So I think what it does is it puts more emphasis on being a quality field goal kicker that can hit at a high percentage. For guys like myself, John Kasay, [Adam] Vinatieri, Jason Hanson and our type of age guys. I think that's a big part for us."
One change that was taken out of the initial proposal was having touchbacks come out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20. The proposed changes -- the two-man wedge will remain legal, but players on the coverage team can now only line up 5 yards from the ball so their running start isn't as great -- were done in the name of increasing safety and cutting down on high-impact collisions.
"This is about as close to a happy medium as you can get without flat-out taking the [kickoff] out of the game," Longwell said.
Longwell understands that a guy such as Chicago's standout return man Devin Hester isn't happy about this alteration, but he also has seen plenty of rules go against kickers. "I certainly feel like what they're doing to Devin Hester with this rule is kind of what they did to us, moving it back to the 30 [from the 35 in 1994] and then moving to the 'K' ball," Longwell said. "Kind of all these rules that have been done over the years. To have a rule that looks like it goes in our favor is pretty exciting because there's certainly been one after another that hasn't gone that way over my 14 years."
Newton workout set for next week
Quarterback Cam Newton will conduct a private workout for the Vikings on Wednesday at Auburn, according to ESPN. Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel, wasn't at Newton's Pro Day this month, but the team will have a full contingent at this workout. Newton is expected to be gone by the time the Vikings pick 12th in next month's draft, but there's a chance they could attempt to move up.