The reeling Vikings on Tuesday gave struggling kicker Blair Walsh the boot instead of another opportunity to cost them a game with a missed kick.
Walsh was on shaky footing after he missed two kicks and failed to execute a key kickoff in a 22-16 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions on Nov. 6. And after the Vikings invited six kickers in for a tryout last Tuesday, Walsh missed his fourth extra-point try of the season in Sunday’s 26-20 loss at Washington.
That kick, which sailed wide of the right upright, was his last with the Vikings.
The Vikings on Tuesday signed free agent Kai Forbath to replace Walsh, who never regained his confidence after his infamous playoff miss last January. Forbath was one of the six kickers to work out at Winter Park last week.
Forbath has made 84.1 percent of his career field-goal attempts in four NFL seasons in Washington then New Orleans. The Saints released the 29-year-old California native after the preseason, and he had been a free agent since.
In five seasons with the Vikings, Walsh, a sixth-round draft pick in 2012, made 84.2 percent of his field-goal attempts. That ranks 11th among active kickers.
Walsh was named a first-team All-Pro as a rookie and also had a strong second season in 2013. After a down year in 2014, the Vikings made him one of the NFL’s highest-paid kickers with a four-year extension worth up to $13.7 million.
Last season, he seemed to have gotten his career back on track before badly missing a would-be game-winner wide left from 27 yards in the final minute of the Vikings’ 10-9 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 10.
The Vikings stood by Walsh after his stomach-punch miss and tried to rebuild his confidence. During spring workouts, they had Walsh, against his wishes, focus on shorter kicks. They intentionally did not ask him to attempt any from 27 yards so he didn’t think they were playing mind games with him.
Walsh’s confidence never seemed to return, and the misses started to pile up. He was wide left on a potential game-winner in the preseason and missed three kicks in the season opener. After three clean games in a row, Walsh missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked in the loss to Detroit.
That poor performance Nov. 6 put Walsh back on the hot seat. And coach Mike Zimmer, while confirming last Monday that the Vikings would work out other kickers last Tuesday, seemed ready to move on from Walsh.
“We’ve missed three extra points this year. We’ve missed several field goals. The way our games are being played, they’re probably going to come down to a lot of close games, I hope so at least anyway,” Zimmer said. “We have to look at all avenues as far as what gives us the best opportunity to win.”
The Vikings opted to not sign Forbath or one of the five other kickers, though, after that workout at Winter Park. Zimmer admitted later last week that he had “no idea” how Walsh would react to the building pressure. He reacted by missing an extra-point try, his NFL-high fourth, in the loss to the Redskins.
Walsh made 12 of 16 field-goal attempts this season and split the uprights on only 15 of his 19 extra-point tries. He had only four clean games out of nine.
On Monday, as Walsh booted kicks alone in the indoor practice field at Winter Park during Zimmer’s weekly news conference, the coach was noncommittal about Walsh’s status. After Zimmer later chatted with General Manager Rick Spielman, the Vikings on Tuesday officially waived the 26-year-old.
Walsh, who lashed out at media after the home loss to the Lions for continuing to ask him about his misses, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Vikings, who are tight against the salary cap, found room to squeeze in Forbath’s deal. Parting ways with Walsh will save them $8 million in future cash, but they will carry over $1.7 million in dead money to their 2017 salary cap.
The turbulent recent times of Walsh, who replaced Ryan Longwell in 2012, have brought rare placekicking instability to Minnesota. Forbath will be only the third kicker to suit up for the Vikings since the start of the 2006 season.
But the Vikings, losers of four consecutive games, finally stopped holding out hope that Walsh could regain his confidence and form under their watch. With their season suddenly teetering on the brink, they can’t afford another critical miss.