In a season filled with change and re-starts – from the retirement of Phil Loadholt to the release of John Sullivan to the blown knee of Teddy Bridgewater to the meniscus of Adrian Peterson to Sharrif Floyd’s knee and more than a dozen “smaller” injuries that have taken a toll on the roster from one week to the next – the Vikings are faced with a dilemma in the coming hours.
Do they cut ties with Blair Walsh?
Walsh will likely forever be in the NFL record books because it’s hard to imagine a kicker being put in the position to make 10-of-10 field goals of 50 yards or more in a season.
But, what also isn’t logical is the roller coaster that has been Walsh’s career – both in college and the pros.
As part of due diligence when the Vikings drafted Walsh and signed Ryan Longwell’s professional death warrant, it was duly noted at the time that Walsh was streaky and, at times, had cases of the yips in his college career. In his senior year, he missed 14 field goals – including two in the three-overtime loss to Michigan State in the January 2012 Outback Bowl.
But when the Vikings drafted Walsh, kickoffs were still coming from the 30-yard line and touchbacks were coming out to the 20 – two things that played against Longwell and in favor of Walsh.
In his rookie season, Walsh made 35 of 38 field goals, including all 10 from long distance, and scored 141 points in the Vikings’ playoff season of 2012. If Peterson wasn’t scoring touchdowns, Walsh was making three-balls.
In 2013, his numbers dipped a bit – he made 26 of 30 field goals and scored 121 points – but they were still extremely good. When Walsh was on, Walsh was on.
Two things happened after the 2013 season. The Vikings moved outside for two years and Mike Zimmer was hired as head coach.
When Zimmer took over the team, he didn’t have any prior relationship with any of the players. He had watched them perform on tape and made his own evaluations how they would fit with his team.
A kicker who had made 90 percent of his field goals and was 20-for-20 inside 40 yards was the least of his worries. All head coaches expect their kickers to be automatic. Walsh was. No problem.
TCF Bank Stadium proved to be a problem.
In Zimmer’s first season with the Vikings, Walsh has the worst field goal percentage of any kicker with enough attempts to qualify – missing nine of 35 attempts (74.3 percent).
He was vouched for by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and, since he had just signed a lucrative contract extension, getting rid of Walsh wasn’t really an option from the financial side of things.
In the 2015 preseason, Walsh was unopposed in training camp, but missed six of 11 field goal attempts and an extra point. Things were ugly. The golden boy was losing his groove.
Yet, Zimmer was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem. He would adjust to the aerodynamic nightmare that is TCF Bank Stadium and would pick things up.
Walsh made more field goals (34) than any other kicker in the league and regained some of Zimmer’s trust.
Then came Seattle in the playoffs.
Perhaps no more crushing defeat has a Vikings team faced since the Saints went criminal on them in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. The defense played well enough to win. The offense did enough in the final two minutes to hold their end of the bargain. Walsh missed a 27-yard chip shot – six yards closer than the new extra point line and only seven yards farther than the old-school extra point.
The problem with Walsh’s playoff miss was the finality of it.
It lingered like an elevator stink in a skyscraper going from Floor 2 to Floor 72.
For eight months. Walsh had to deal with it. One can only imagine any trip to social media was brutal.
Walsh accounted for every point the Vikings scored in that game. He was three-for-three on field goals before the fatal miss.
Then he was three-for four and, in the view of everyone from Zimmer on down – an exhaustive list of millions – and from Zimmer on up – which can be counted on one non-shop teacher hand – he was “oh, hell no”-for-one.
From that day on, Walsh has been dogged for the lesser-Norwood – a wide left of greater fame.
At a community playground build, the question came up – from reporters with agendas to an 8-year old kid saying he felt bad for how Blair was treated in the fallout.
For the last 11 months, it hasn’t been good to be Blair Walsh.
Every miss – and there have been several – has been scrutinized and evaluated by those who don’t have the slightest clue what it’s like to kick a field goal or extra point.
But, until Sunday, Walsh hadn’t missed a second field goal that cost his team a game. That happened Sunday.
When the Vikings scored a touchdown in the second half to presumably tie the game 10-10 with the Lions, Walsh’s extra point bonked off the right upright, keeping the team behind 10-9 and sucked all the momentum out of the building.
In the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead, Walsh had a field goal blocked that, given where the defender stuck a hand up to block it, gave every impression that, if the ball had made it through the sea of hands at the line of scrimmage, it would have sailed wide left.
Overtime would have been a moot point had Walsh made both of those kicks. He made neither.
Zimmer has no loyalty toward Walsh other than sticking by him when he has missed and it has become the subject of press conference discussion. He has stuck with his kicker throughout, but, this time, it may have been the last straw.
The Vikings have underdone significant change in the last four months – some by their own design, others by the fickle fate of the football gods. But, as it pertains to their kicker, Walsh’s tenure with the Vikings is going to be the topic of discussion upstairs at Winter Park and, whether the plan is to bring in competition to work out this week or to outright release him, the Vikings may well have seen the last of Blair Walsh given the circumstances.