Walsh out to earn his big contract

Kicker Blair Walsh struggled with the winds of TCF Bank Stadium, but the Vikings showed their faith in him with a contract extension. He talked about the process of the contract, dealing with the weather and more.

Almost from the day a player signs his rookie contract, the hope and anticipation is that he can prove himself enough to earn a second contract for veteran money. One of the happiest guys at training camp in Mankato this summer is kicker Blair Walsh, who signed a four-year, $13 million contract extension right before the start of camp that includes another $1 million in incentives that could push the deal as high as $14 million.

The process of getting the deal done came quickly. There had been preliminary talks last spring, but when the Vikings came back to the table in July, it didn’t take long to get the extension signed.

“We talked about it very briefly at the start of the offseason and the talks ramped up over the last month,” Walsh said. “My agent did a great job negotiating with the team and we got a deal that we both thought was fair was beneficial for both.”

Walsh was confident that he would get a deal done with the Vikings, but wasn’t sure if it was going to come before the season started or after the season before free agency began. He felt one of the best things he had going for him was the organizational policy the Vikings have of developing players in their own system and, if they live up to the expectations the team had in them, they re-sign them to a veteran contract for significantly better pay.

“The great thing about the Vikings organization is that they draft and like to keep the talent they drafted,” Walsh said. “It shows they have a lot of faith in me. Now I have to go out and perform to earn my contract. I think I’ve done that to this point and have to continue to do that.”

Following in a long line of players that include current teammates Adrian Peterson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Kyle Rudolph, Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Chad Greenway, when the Vikings see that a player is productive and has a bright future ahead of him, the team signs them to a new contract before they hit free agency or have to be hit with a franchise tag.

General Manager Rick Spielman is a firm believer in keeping consistency on the roster by making sure the best young players on the team stay with the Vikings and get the second contract they seek and Walsh fit under those criteria.

“Blair has been a vital part of our special teams success since we drafted him and we felt it was very important to secure his future with our organization,” Spielman said. “His consistency on kickoffs and on long-range field goals can help change the game for our team and we’re excited for his future here in Minnesota.”

Walsh entered the NFL as sixth-round draft pick in 2012 and the immediate reaction was that he was going to replace veteran kicker Ryan Longwell, who was one of the league’s most efficient kickers but struggled to get touchbacks. A week after the draft and just days after the rookie minicamp, the Vikings had seen enough of Walsh and released Longwell.

Walsh knew he had a big legacy to fill, but said what many people already knew – that Longwell was one of the classiest individuals in the NFL. In a lot of scenarios, there could have been pressure to perform, but the Vikings made Walsh the only kicker in their training camp and he said Longwell made his transition even easier by showing class throughout the process.

“I got one of the nicest text messages after the draft from Ryan,” Walsh said. “He was just a good guy all the way around and a fantastic kicker. It was difficult following him, but you don’t try to fill someone’s shoes, you try to create your own and put your stamp on the team by leading by example. I think I’ve been able to do that at my position.”

Walsh responded to the Vikings faith in him by setting NFL records for most field goals of 50 yards or more in a season (10) and in one game (three), while connecting on all 10 of his long distance attempts. His 141 points as a rookie was second only to the 144 points that Kevin Butler scored for the world champion Bears of 1985.

While his numbers haven’t reached those lofty levels since, the combination of good accuracy and booming kickoffs gave the Vikings the confidence in him to give him a long-term extension and the financial security he was seeking. Walsh wasn’t sure a deal would get done prior to training camp, but he loves Minnesota and was looking to make it his permanent home both on and off the field.

“You can never think you’re going to be with a team for a long, long time, but you come into the process hoping that it will be the case,” Walsh said. “Not everyone gets to have an organization as their permanent team and permanent home, but that’s what you’re playing for. You’re playing for that second contract, you’re playing for success and you’re playing to make a livelihood out of this game. That’s what I’ve done to this point. The contract is just the next step in my career.”

The best part of the deal for Walsh is that it assures that he will be making the move back indoors, where he was about as automatic as they came. In two seasons in the Metrodome, he made 90 percent of his field goal attempts (61 of 68) and consistently hit kickoffs deep into if not out of the end zone. However, when the team moved outside to TCF Bank Stadium, a building with a lot of wind-related quirks that make life miserable for kickers, it was a different story last year.

While he still was launching long kickoffs, his field goal numbers took a big hit. He missed 9 of 35 attempts, a league-low 74.3 percent among full-time kickers and had his share of struggles trying to deal with the winds at The Bank.

He said he and his special teams mates are going to spend a lot of their free time during the season making weekly trips to TCF Bank Stadium to get extra work in to try to figure out the nuances of the building in the Vikings’ final year of calling the University of Minnesota stadium their home, but not only is he glad he has a big contract in his hip pocket, he’s happier that the heavy lifting of his deal will come when he is back indoors and more in his comfort zone as the Vikings kicker of the present and the future.

“You can never get too much work in out there because it’s a tough place to play at,” Walsh said. “It’s our home field and we need to make a home-field advantage of it. We did some good things last year, but it has to be more consistent. I think our performance will be better this year, but I will really be looking forward to moving into the new stadium because there isn’t a kicker in the world that would rather kick outdoors than indoors.”

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