Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Youth is served: Spielman explains decision to release Ryan Longwell

Posted by: under Off the field, Vikings, Bears, Brad Childress, Adrian Peterson, Brad Childress, Jared Allen, Ryan Longwell Updated: May 9, 2012 - 9:53 PM

The biggest transaction news out of Winter Park this week was the Monday night release of kicker Ryan Longwell, the Vikings cutting ties with the veteran kicker after six seasons. Longwell made 135 regular season field goals and 228 extra points during his days in purple. In fact, if you’re curious as to when the Vikings last played a game without Longwell, you’d have to rewind to Jan. 1, 2006, a 34-10 blowout of Chicago. Paul Edinger was the Vikings kicker then, Brad Johnson was the quarterback, Mike Tice was in his final game as head coach. (For further perspective, at that time Jared Allen was finishing his second season in Kansas City, Adrian Peterson was finishing his sophomore year at Oklahoma and Christian Ponder was a budding senior at Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas.)

Well, now? Clear the stage for the start of the Blair Walsh era. Walsh, drafted in the sixth round on April 28, should be the starting kicker on opening day in the fall. The Vikings are impressed with his overall leg strength, believing he can be a consistent weapon from beyond 50 yards while also becoming incredibly valuable on kickoffs as well. (Longwell, it should be noted, produced only 19 touchbacks on 77 kickoffs last season.)
 
This afternoon, general manager Rick Spielman addressed the move to cut Longwell loose. Here are the highlights of what Spielman had to say.
 

On when the decision was made to move on from Longwell …

Ryan has won a lot of ballgames for us. Ryan had an extremely good career here. And not even what he does on the field but what he does off the field is just unique and special. And he’s a special, special person. But those are the decisions that are tough ones to make. Just like we had to make a couple other very tough decisions earlier, back in March. But again, our emphasis has always been on trying to get our team better, try to get it younger and that’s the direction we kind of went. It just fits in with everything else we were honed in on this offseason. But I can’t say enough good things about Ryan Longwell.
 
On whether Longwell’s leg strength seemed to dip in 2011 …
He had what was probably not his best year. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still kicking in this league. But he’s had a unique career here and a unique career in Green Bay. And he’s even a better person.
 
On why Longwell was let go now as opposed to letting him compete for the placekicking job at training camp this summer …
I think the biggest thing, too, is to be fair to Ryan – if we felt that strongly about the young, rookie kicker to give Ryan an opportunity now instead of waiting until maybe the end of training camp. We tried to do that with some of the other veterans we released. We didn’t want to wait. We wanted to give them an opportunity to go out and get jobs. Because I think that’s fair that you do that for your players whenever you can … I think it all goes back to when we started our whole process of evaluating our roster all the way back in January, when we started our meetings and were evaluating everybody on our roster. Making those difficult decisions. Like I said, some very good veteran football players [we let go] and it makes it even more difficult with the kind of people they were as well.
 
On Walsh’s shake senior year at Georgia during which he missed 14 of 35 field goal attempts …
We understood the reasons why. There were a lot of things that went into that a little bit. Just looking at some technical things and maybe rushing through some of the stuff. But you look at his history, he was a 90 percent kicker through most of his career after he had taken over. And the kickoffs are exceptional from all the work we’ve done on him. He did have a down year his senior year but we felt very confident that we could bring him along.
 
On Walsh’s value as a kickoff guy …
The kickoffs are a huge part of our game. Because where you’re seeing teams and how you can eliminate the [kick returner] and we play some very explosive [returners] in this division and the kickoff and being able to have touchbacks can be a huge advantage to.

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