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Vikings face familiar question with kicker Bailey ahead of free agency

Dan Bailey is one of a few big-name veteran kickers headed for unrestricted free agency in a month.

We could see musical chairs movement around the league with the Vikings among teams likely eyeing free agent options led by Matt Bryant, Stephen Gostkowski, Robbie Gould and Bailey. The conversation in Minnesota starts with Bailey, who is coming off another career-low, 75-percent season on field goals that could have the Vikings seeking a fifth kicker in four years.

“I think given the circumstance, on a personal level, I came in and thought it went O.K.,” Bailey said at the end of the season. “[In December], I thought the whole field goal operation, we were really gelling and working well. I think it was definitely trending upwards.”

Bailey made his last five field goal attempts after missing three of 11 tries in October, his first full month after taking over for ousted rookie Daniel Carlson in Week 3. He missed eight kicks (one extra point) overall. One was a 42 yarder taking a hard left turn in strong winds at MetLife Stadium. Another was blocked. Al Riveron, the NFL’s VP of Officiating, later said a penalty flag should’ve been enforced on the Seahawks for leverage. An official picked up a flag on the play and the block stood.

Five more misses dropped Bailey to 29th in field goal percentage (21 of 28). The Vikings coaching staff is once again looking to improve that mark, whether with Bailey or not. This time, a new special teams coordinator, Marwan Maalouf, will give the discussion a fresh set of eyes. Maalouf will be made available to reporters for the first time on Wednesday.

Bailey did shore up the Vikings’ extra-point operation by making 30 of 31 attempts. He also rebounded from two first-half misses in Philadelphia with a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of the Vikings’ 23-21 win. One of his unblocked misses, a 48-yard kick wide left during the first quarter in New England, came during a loss.

Despite consecutive seasons at 75 percent, Bailey is still the NFL’s fifth-most accurate field goal kicker of all time with a career mark at 86.6 percent. 

“This is a pretty good organization to play for,” said the 31-year-old Bailey. “I enjoyed my time here. We had nine games inside, including Detroit. That’s kind of hard to beat. There are a lot of positives about being up here. Obviously, it’s not completely up to me as well.”

General manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer will have to decide whether Bailey’s five misses, those unaffected by ridiculous wind gusts and uncalled penalties, are enough to move on despite his Sept. 18 signing that deprived Bailey of much prep time with his new holder and long snapper. Bailey said the groin injury that contributed to his 15-of-20 field goal exit from Dallas was a “nonfactor” last season.

“Working with the same guys over a period of time is huge for us,” Bailey said. “You’re talking about three guys working collectively to do one job in 1.3 seconds? So, the timing, rhythm and all that stuff has to be on for everybody to be confident and comfortable.”

Deadlines, key dates, NFL Combine: What's ahead for the Vikings?

Early movement can set a tone for the NFL offseason, which officially began last week with the reopening of the waiver system. If you recall last year, Kansas City’s February agreement to trade Alex Smith to Washington meant Kirk Cousins was scouting his future home during a Super Bowl visit in Minneapolis.

This time around, the Vikings won’t be guaranteeing anybody $84 million. But some pivotal roster decisions need to be made in the coming weeks, including the pending free agency of linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Talks will begin in earnest with their own free agents at the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of this month. Here’s the timeline through the NFL Draft:

Feb. 19: The window opens for teams to begin applying a franchise or transition tag on designated players. 

Feb. 26-March 4: The NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

March 5: Franchise and transition tags must be applied by 3 p.m. central.

March 11-13: Negotiations  legally  begin between teams and the pending unrestricted free agents from other teams.

March 13: Free agency opens at 3 p.m. central, marking the start of the 2019 league year. It’s also the deadline for the Vikings’ decisions on 2019 options, like safety Andrew Sendejo’s $5.5 million, as well as whether to tender restricted and exclusive rights free agents, which this year include safety Anthony Harris (RFA) and fullback C.J. Ham (ERFA). Trading is again opened.

March 24-27: League meetings, where owners start voting on new rule proposals, in Phoenix. Last year, the new catch rule was approved unanimously.

April 15: The Vikings, and all other teams with returning head coaches, can begin offseason workouts.

April 19: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams.

April 25-27: The NFL Draft on First and Broadway in Nashville.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Teams are permitted to hold one three-day rookie minicamp for draft picks, undrafted players and tryouts on either weekend.

May 20-22: League meetings, where last year rule changes and host cities for the draft and Super Bowl were announced, in Key Biscayne, Fla.

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