Ryan Ficken, the Vikings' new special teams coordinator, enters his 15th season with the only NFL franchise he's ever worked for. More than half of his years in Minnesota have been spent assisting special teams, so he's already seen plenty of kicker competitions.
As Ficken takes the reins of last year's struggling special teams, another kicking competition tops a long to-do list. After veteran Dan Bailey's career-worst slump in December, the Vikings are expected to sign 26-year-old kicker Greg Joseph, according to a league source, to at least compete with Bailey, should the veteran stay on the roster.
"I have a really good relationship with Dan Bailey, and I'm very optimistic in what he can do," Ficken said Tuesday at his introductory video news conference. "He's one of the top kickers, so we're very excited and fortunate that we have him on the Minnesota Vikings roster."
The Vikings agreed to guarantee part of Joseph's salary, according to a source, which is atypical for players who weren't on active rosters at the end of the 2020 season.
Joseph sat behind Ryan Succop on the Buccaneers practice squad last year. He's on his sixth NFL team in three years but has been consistent in limited chances. Joseph made 17 field goals in 20 attempts for the Browns in 2018, including a long of 51 yards, and all 10 kicks for the Titans in 2019.
That puts Bailey, who made 3 of 10 kicks against the Jaguars and Bucs, in a precarious spot. The Vikings are approaching a crossroads with the 33-year-old former Pro Bowler, who will get $1.8 million guaranteed if on the roster March 19. Punter Britton Colquitt, also coming off a down year, has the same guarantee in his contract.
Specialists aren't the only potential change for Ficken, who replaces Marwan Maalouf and inherits one of the NFL's worst special teams groups.
The Vikings ranked average or way below in nearly every category — kick returns (16th), punt returns (last), punt coverage (23rd), kick coverage (24th), field goal percentage (last) and extra-point percentage (29th). A young roster struggled mightily with penalties, awareness and execution.
"Obviously, we did have some issues," Ficken said. "We've got to get back to playing complementary football, and there are a lot of factors that come along with that. We had a great opportunity to go ahead and develop a lot of the depth with this roster with some of these young guys."
Ficken, who arrived in Minnesota in 2007 as an assistant running backs coach under Brad Childress, has a head start over other first-year coordinators. He said he'll lean on the knowledge of the players and organization that comes with eight years assisting Vikings special teams under former coordinators Maalouf and Mike Priefer.
"It's definitely a benefit," Ficken said. "A lot of guys — new special teams coordinators in other places — are going through that right now. That's kind of a leg up, and you kind of know where some of the bones are buried."