Minnesota Vikings kicking around options for replacing Walsh

Published 8:45 am Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Blair Walsh might have kicked his last ball for the Minnesota Vikings.

After Walsh missed a league-leading third extra point and had a field goal blocked in a game the Vikings in lost in overtime to Detroit, their third straight defeat, the team began arranging visits for free agents to evaluate as possible replacements. Coach Mike Zimmer confirmed the tryouts would take place, but he was noncommittal whether the Vikings would sign a kicker before the next game at Washington.

Questioned by a reporter Monday about the reasons for considering a change this week, Zimmer quipped, “You haven’t been watching all year?”

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Later in his news conference, Zimmer was asked if he believes Walsh can still be a successful kicker in Minnesota.

“I believe Blair can be a successful kicker, yes,” Zimmer said, leaving out the part about Minnesota.

Walsh was an All-Pro as a rookie in 2012, setting an NFL record with 10 field goals made from 50-plus yards. He slipped a little in his second season and more so the year after when the Vikings moved outside at the University of Minnesota during construction of their new stadium. Progress made during the 2015 regular season was eclipsed by the infamous miss of the 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first-round playoff game against Seattle that kept Minnesota from advancing.

Since then, he hasn’t been able to get back on track. Walsh is 12 for 15 on extra points and 12 for 16 on field goals. The scrutiny has been bothering him, too, as evidenced by a brief, testy postgame interview session at his cubicle Sunday.

“You guys have got to understand: What do you want the answer to be, you know? I want to be there for my team. Of course I do. But, come on. You guys ask the same questions every week. ‘Did you make it?’ ‘Why didn’t it go in?’ If I had the answer right away, I’d tell you,” Walsh said. “I’m confident in what I’m doing. I know that I’m going to be fine. But it’s tough right now.”

Walsh said he wasn’t sure whether he still had the support of his teammates.

“I would hope so,” Walsh said. “I’ve been in this league long enough. I’ve had success. But I’m in a place where I’ve got to make kicks, and I know that. And I need to be there for my team. That’s really what it comes down to.”

So who’s available? Kai Forbath, Garrett Hartley and Josh Scobee are among the most experienced out of work kickers on the market. Marshall Morgan and Tom Obarski are others in the up-and-coming category.

Walsh is signed through 2019 on a four-year contract extension he was given in 2015 worth as much as $13 million. So cutting him would cause a little salary-cap pain into next season. For a team chasing a championship that typically plays close, lower-scoring games, missed kicks can be extra costly.

“We have to look at all avenues as far as what gives us the best opportunity to win football games,” Zimmer said.

The extra point missed in the third quarter hit the right goalpost and left the Lions with a 10-9 lead. The 46-yard field goal attempt was low and moving left when it was batted at the line by defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker. There was another transgression by Walsh, though, that hurt the Vikings just as much.

After their touchdown with 23 seconds left in regulation, Walsh was directed to drop the kickoff between the 10-yard line and the 5 so the Lions would have to return it and drain more time off the clock.

The ball landed in the end zone for a touchback, a gift for a team that was out of timeouts. The Lions moved 35 yards in two plays so Matt Prater could make a 58-yard field goal and force overtime.

The blame for the 22-16 loss was spread beyond Walsh, though. The defense faltered down the stretch. The offense was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. In the second quarter, a drive that began at the Detroit 18 after an interception turned into a punt.

Zimmer was also kicking himself, no pun intended, for only sending two pass rushers on the final heave by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford that got them within range for Prater’s kick.