Having spent an NFL-high three draft picks on kickers or punters — and a fourth on a long snapper — since 2012, the Vikings spent Monday afternoon introducing a player who could do both jobs but is not guaranteed to do either.
Kaare Vedvik, the specialist the Vikings acquired from the Ravens in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick, spent his first practice in Minnesota practicing punts and kicking 60-yard field goals off a tee while the team remained publicly agnostic about Vedvik’s actual role.
Coach Mike Zimmer said he hadn’t learned trading for Vedvik was a real possibility until Sunday morning — he’d falsely claimed to be unaware of the trade during his Sunday afternoon news conference to “be a good soldier” and conceal the team’s intentions until the move became official, he admitted Monday — and indicated he planned to take a week to evaluate Vedvik before determining where he could ultimately end up.
“I called Jerry Rosburg when there was a possibility this might happen because I wanted to find out about this kid,” Zimmer said. “Jerry Rosburg was the special teams coach with Baltimore, right? A good friend of mine and I asked him, what is he? Is he a kicker, a punter, a kickoff guy? And he just said, ‘He’s an NFL talent,’ and so that’s kind of where it went from there. I still don’t know what he is, and I definitely won’t know today.”
The move, which triggered the release of Kevin McDermott and made rookie Austin Cutting the winner of the team’s long-snapper battle, leaves the Vikings with another round of decisions to make with their specialists — long an enigma on the roster — in the final three weeks of the preseason.
The Vikings could conceivably keep Vedvik as their punter, betting that his work as a holder last season with Ravens punter Sam Koch makes him a more reliable option than Matt Wile, and hang on to Dan Bailey as their kicker. Or, they could replace Bailey with Vedvik and keep Wile, though Zimmer stressed again on Monday he “likes Bailey a lot” and wasn’t necessarily looking for another kicker.
Zimmer didn’t rule out the idea of Vedvik doing both jobs — and becoming the first player to handle both spots for a full season since the Rams’ Frank Corral in 1981 — though he admitted it would be a tough logistical arrangement, given that Vedvik is a rookie and the Vikings would need to find a new holder.
On Monday, the Vikings had Bailey work as a holder as Wile recovers from a cut on his finger that required stitches after Friday’s game in New Orleans. Neither Wile nor Bailey was made available to reporters for the second consecutive day.
Vedvik, speaking after Zimmer’s news conference, said he “has a passion for both” kicking and punting and remained open to both of the jobs he’s been doing since his senior year at Marshall, when a kicker injury forced Vedvik to hold both jobs after spending three years learning to punt.
His first exposure to American football came when he saw the Super Bowl on TV while growing up in Norway. Before his second year of high school, he chose to spend a year in McPherson, Kan., as part of an exchange-student program, picking a school in the U.S. over one in Australia largely because of his curiosity about football. While there, Vedvik transferred his soccer skills to the football field as a kicker, and came back to the United States to play at Marshall.
“At the time [I entered college], I wasn’t a very good punter,” he said. “I love challenges; this is something that I can get better at, so I spent the next years there training on becoming a punter. Then my senior year when my starting kicker got hurt that’s when I naturally came back into doing the whole role. I was the guy with the team who had the most experience with everything at the time. Then coming into the Ravens, they also gave me the opportunity to do all three in the preseason and it has continued to now.”
Assuming Vedvik is one of the Vikings’ three specialists — and after the team spent a fifth-round pick to acquire him, it’s difficult to imagine him not being one — the Vikings will have two specialists who haven’t played in an NFL game. Zimmer said the team picked Cutting over McDermott in part because “a lot of times, it’s being younger” and cited the rookie’s athleticism and snapping velocity as things that gave him an advantage over McDermott.
“We figured we had to get the battery down so we weren’t using two snappers in and out because we’ve got to work on operations of the field goal and things like that,” Zimmer said. “It really wasn’t anything that Kevin [McDermott] did. Kevin was a terrific team guy here, unbelievable person and it’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
A year after dumping rookie Daniel Carlson in favor of Bailey in Week 2, the Vikings could end up swapping Bailey out for another rookie. Or, they could make Vedvik their new punter and Bailey’s new holder, after the veteran kicker talked this offseason about the value of extra time with McDermott and Wile to smooth out the issues the team had with its kicking operation in 2018.
The Vikings — who have the league’s fifth-worst field goal percentage since 2014 — are once again shuffling their field goal operation in the final weeks before the season. They’ll have to see if their latest endeavor is the one to end their kicking quagmire.
“We need to get it figured out,” Zimmer said. “What’s today, the 12th? We’ve got almost a month, so we’ll be all right.”