Loeffler playing waiting game with his future

Cullen Loeffler has been part of the Vikings for 11 years, but he will turn 34 later this month and has to wait for the Vikings to make their decision.

If you’ve been around the Vikings, you know the recent routine since Rick Spielman took hold of the reins when two of the three legs of the Triangle of Authority were kicked out and he was named general manager. As a general rule, Spielman prefers young plays. If players hit the age of 30, their future is somewhere in between being an endangered species or a character from Logan’s Run.

The history has spoken volumes. Antoine Winfield. Jared Allen. Kevin Williams. They’ve all gone out the door before their level of play drops off.

As the longest-vested veteran in the 2014 Vikings locker room, long snapper Cullen Loeffler is a free agent and his future with the Vikings is unknown. While the role of a long snapper isn’t the same as a cornerback or a defensive lineman over the age of 30, there has been a pattern to Spielman’s philosophy of building a team.

Asked what he thinks of his future with the Vikings, Loeffler said that he expects his agent and the front office to talk in the coming weeks, but, at this point, the 11-year veteran isn’t sure what the future holds for him. But, given his druthers, he wants to continue his career as a Viking.

“I just have to talk with Rick and the Vikings organization and see what the organization wants to do,” Loeffler said. “I love the Vikings and have enjoyed playing here. I’ve raised a family during my time with the Vikings. I’m always going to be a Viking regardless of what happens, but that’s where we’re at now – just seeing where they’re at and where they want to go.”

After holding a salary-cap number of $1.27 million in 2014, Loeffler is scheduled to be a free agent in March.

As someone who has seen hundreds of teammates come and go in his 11 seasons, Loeffler knows as well as anyone that NFL careers don’t last long. He feels blessed to have played for all long as he has, but he isn’t ready to move on to the next chapter in his life. How long does he want to play? Loeffler is realistic about that.

“I get asked that and my answer is usually ‘one more game,’” Loeffler said. “You never know in this league, regardless of what position you play. There can be that one catastrophic hit or bad break that can change your profession. As it stands now, just one more game and we’ll take it from there.”

Loeffler is aware of the recent history of veteran Vikings being shown the door or simply allowed to leave without making a competitive offer to keep them with the team. But he isn’t convinced that 30 is a drop-dead number for Vikings players. It’s just a number and, as long as they continue to produce, age should be a benefit, not a hindrance.

“I don’t think you can think that way that it is predetermined that once you hit a certain age you’re gone,” Loeffler said. “You just have to come in and do your job to the best of your ability and let your performance and your leadership and the other variables you bring to the team play itself out. That’s what I’ve done throughout my career – trying to make the punter’s and kicker’s jobs as easy as possible. That’s all you can do. That’s the only way you can go about it and try to continue to play at a high level.”

For much of his career, Loeffler was one of the younger guys in the special teams room. He was taken under the wing of veteran kicker Ryan Longwell, whom Loeffler credits as being both a friend and mentor. He learned a lot about football (and life) from his time with Longwell and he has attempted to pay it forward – doing what he can to be a mentor to young specialists Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke.

It’s been a learning experience for Loeffler as well, since players almost a decade younger than him are a vast departure from teammates like Longwell, who were almost a decade older. In the NFL, players in their early 20s have a generational gap with players in their early 30s, so it has been a significant transition for both sides.

“It’s a tremendous difference, since Blair and Jeff are at the beginning of their careers,” Loeffler said. “I’ve taken a lot of pride in being there to answer any questions they’ve had and work closely to help them make the transition to the NFL easier for both of them. They’ve always treated me with respect and I feel like I’ve been good for them in making them feel comfortable when they got here. There are a lot of situations I’ve encountered over the years that they haven’t yet. I take a lot of pride in helping not just them out, but the other special teamers. I relish the opportunity to be able to help them along in their careers.”

Both Locke and Walsh have been thankful to have a willing veteran like Loeffler to work untold hours on perfecting their timing on punts, field goals and extra points. Young players always feel the pressure to perform because they have proved nothing to their new coaching staffs and don’t always receive a warm reception from veteran teammates. Walsh feared the worst when he came to Minnesota but found the best when he was introduced to Loeffler.

“You never know what you’re walking into when you’re coming to a team to replace a veteran,” Walsh said. “Ryan Longwell was a popular guy and I was the guy brought in to be the new kicker. I didn’t know what to expect, but Cullen was one of the first people I met and he made me feel welcome from Day One. That was important. I’ve learned a lot from him in the time I’ve been here – about football and about being a professional. I don’t have a vote, but if I did, he would be coming back. He does what he does at an elite level.”

The Vikings will likely make their decision within the next month or so as to whether they intend to keep Loeffler or allow him to enter free agency, where he could receive a lot of interest considering his success rate over the years. He may have played his last game with the Vikings, but he hopes that when the time comes that he does call it a career, it will be a mutual decision. At this point, it isn’t.

“After a season, teams evaluate every position, including mine,” Loeffler said. “All you can do is hope that working hard every day and being a good player and teammate has made an impression on them. I’d like to think I’ve played well enough that they want to keep me and Blair and Jeff together as part of the special teams. But that isn’t my decision to make. I’ve done what I can do. I guess I’ll find out pretty soon if I’m in their future plans.”

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