Yotter: A stats-based, detached look at Kluwe

No doubt the opinionated ways of punter Chris Kluwe didn't help his employment status, but if the Vikings really did release him for "football reasons," what do the numbers and rankings say about his performance and his replacement? You might be surprised.

Is it possible to punt all the controversial noise on the Vikings' decision to cut Chris Kluwe and look at what the numbers say? Putting his outspoken ways aside, what do the numbers say about the job Kluwe did on the field?

After all, while Kluwe's very public promotion of his views may have become a distraction for him and the team at times, NFL franchises have been known to put up with far greater attention-grabbing headliners if they produce on the field.

"If I can punt the ball well, then I'll have a job. If I can't, I won't," Kluwe wrote in an e-mail to Viking Update last month when asked if he was concerned about his job. "That's the reality of life in the NFL."

Held to that novel standard of judging professional athletes by their performance, did Kluwe deserve to be released?

The punter correctly points out that he had the highest net punting average of his eight-year career in 2012. He's right about that. His net average was 39.7 yards, 1.7 yards better than it was the previous year and almost one full yard further than it had ever been before in his career. But, still, in NFL circles, that only ranked 24th among punters, the same ranking he had last year in gross yards.

In other words, take the league's punters, divide them into four tiers and Kluwe's net and gross average would fall right on the border of the third and fourth tiers. Even in a "career year," it was below average in the NFL.

It's much the same story when looking at Kluwe's other rankings. He was only 31st with 18 punts inside the 20-yard line, but he was very good with only two that went into the end zone for touchbacks. He was tied for 24th with four punts that went out of bounds.

He also tied for 27th with only 12 of his punts resulting in fair catches and was sixth with 41 of them being returned.

In releasing Kluwe, the Vikings continued on the path of general manager Rick Spielman's vision for acquiring younger players through the draft. Taking Jeff Locke in the fifth round also allowed the Vikings to reduce their salary commitment at the position. Kluwe was scheduled to make a $1.4 million base salary along with a $50,000 workout bonus. That's not even top 10 among NFL punters, but it's still significantly more than Locke will make.

Locke was taken 155th overall. Miami Dolphins linebacker Josh Kaddu was the 155th overall selection in 2012, and his annual average salary is $435,000, less than one-third of what Kluwe would have cost the Vikings in 2012.

The NFL can be a cruel business. Nothing proves that more than finding out Kluwe was taking part in the Vikings' Family Fun Day for fans only a couple hours before the team drafted his replacement.

Of course the Vikings are going to deny they released Kluwe because of his outspoken ways and maintain it was because of his performance. They have to say that. But, in looking at the rankings objectively, they can be right in their decision on strictly a statistical level if Locke pans out.

The rookie ranked second in UCLA history with 275 punts for 12,163 yards and a gross average of 44.2 yards (beating Kluwe's UCLA days on both markers) and coming within two-tenths of a yard of Kluwe's career gross average. Locke's UCLA average was also fourth-highest in Pac-12 history. He had 26 touchbacks, 76 fair catches, 99 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, 70 kicks for 50 yards or longer and none blocked. Opponents had a 7.55-yard return average on him with what has been described as a "mediocre coverage unit," leaving him with a 39.5-yard net average – essentially the same net Kluwe had last year with the Vikings kicking mostly indoors and with an accomplished coverage unit.

Kluwe's claim that he is the best punter in Vikings history is probably accurate, but the punting standards in the NFL have been raised and the Vikings are now counting on their new left-footed punter to pick where Kluwe left off … and maybe exceed.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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