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Zulgad: What took so long? Vikings finally sever ties with Walsh

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings’ decision to jettison Blair Walsh on Tuesday brought an end to a remarkable display of loyalty that had been paid to a guy who occupied a position at which change is usually commonplace.

The already struggling Walsh recorded the hat trick of missing an extra-point, having a 46-yard field-goal attempt blocked and botching a kickoff late in the Vikings’ loss to Detroit on Nov. 6.

Somehow that didn’t get him cut, despite the fact it added to a resume already filled with miscues.

What served as the final straw was Walsh’s fourth missed-extra point of the season in Minnesota’s 26-20 loss on Sunday in Washington. That gave Walsh eight misses in nine games this season, if you include the four field-goal attempts he failed to convert.

Veteran journeyman Kai Forbath, who was among a half-dozen kickers to work out for the Vikings last week, reportedly will replace Walsh.

Forbath isn’t being signed because he’s anything special – he has made 84.1 percent of his career field-goal attempts in four seasons with Washington and New Orleans – he’s being signed because the Vikings’ brass likely realized that continuing to employ Walsh was sending a message to the locker room that they were more than willing to play favorites when it came to this one position.

The Vikings have injuries all over the place and will be starting their fourth left tackle and third right tackle of the season on Sunday against Arizona. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was lost just before the regular season and running back Adrian Peterson suffered a potentially season-ending knee injury in Week 2.

Much of this is out of the Vikings’ control and, in Bridgewater’s case, general manager Rick Spielman made a gutsy trade by sending a first- and conditional fourth-round pick to Philadelphia to acquire quarterback Sam Bradford a week before the regular season.

The message delivered with that acquisition was that the Vikings were all in for 2016. The Vikings got off to a 5-0 start despite Walsh’s struggles but have crashed back to earth by losing four in a row.

The Vikings’ failure to release Walsh, especially when former Bears kicker Robbie Gould (now with the Giants) was available, was puzzling because a change made so much sense and was a move within the team’s control.

So why did it take so long?

The easy narrative was that Walsh’s problems began with his 27-yard miss late in last season’s playoff loss to Seattle at TCF Bank Stadium. That cost the Vikings an opportunity to advance and put Walsh in a negative spotlight. But it was far from the start of his problems.

The only plausible explanation is that the loyalty to Walsh came from Spielman and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

Spielman used a sixth-round draft pick on Walsh in 2012, and removed any competition by releasing veteran Ryan Longwell. Priefer was the guy who was responsible for helping Walsh rebound after he made only 60 percent of his field-goal attempts in his final collegiate season at Georgia.

The Vikings always seemed to hold onto the hope that Walsh could recapture the magic of his rookie season, when he set an NFL record by making 10 field goals of 50-plus yards and led the league by making 35 field goals.

Spielman looked as if he had struck gold at that point and received praise for selecting Walsh.

The first sign of trouble for Walsh, and when many teams might have started to consider their options, came in 2014. Walsh missed on nine field-goal attempts, going from a success rate of 86.7 percent in 2013 to 74.3 percent.

Despite his struggles, Walsh was rewarded with a four-year, $14 million contract extension just before last season in what appeared to be another attempt to reduce any pressure. He then hit on 87.2 percent of his field-goal attempts (34 of 39) and missed four of 36 extra-point attempts in the first season the PAT was moved back to the 15-yard line.

There were many who wondered how Walsh would rebound after his playoff miss and the Vikings likely were relying on the fact that moving from a two-year stint playing outdoors on the University of Minnesota campus to the indoor environment at U.S. Bank Stadium would be a big help.

If that was the assumption, it turned out to be very wrong.

One of the most puzzling things about Walsh’s situation is that the Vikings continued to treat him with kid gloves in training camp. It would have been logical to bring another kicker to Mankato to provide competition and see how Walsh would respond to the pressure but that wasn’t done.

Walsh looked lost in the Vikings’ victory at Tennessee in the regular-season opener. Early in the second quarter, the 26-year-old missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide left and just before the half he attempted a 56-yarder that ended up going way wide to the left. It wasn’t that he just missed, it was that Walsh went back to his habit of hurrying the kick and never gave it a chance.

Walsh also missed an extra-point attempt in the third quarter and yet nothing was done.

Walsh was clearly annoyed with questions about his misses following the Lions’ loss – although his only job was to make field goals and do as told on kickoffs – and Zimmer did not attempt to hide his displeasure with his kicker a day after the defeat.

But even that did not result in a change.

Priefer attempted to convince anyone who would listen last week that he felt bringing in competition for Walsh had lit a fire under the kicker. That was nonsense. This was never about Walsh’s needing to be motivated or getting a kick in the butt.

All you had to do was watch Walsh trot onto the field to realize he had zero faith in himself.

That’s what made this so remarkable. Somehow the Vikings were the only ones who failed to see this, or they mistakenly thought that Walsh would magically find his confidence.

On Tuesday, even Spielman was forced to acknowledge that wasn’t going to happen and that keeping Walsh around was doing a disservice to everyone who draws a paycheck at Winter Park.

The post Zulgad: What took so long? Vikings finally sever ties with Walsh appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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