Vikings punter Chris Kluwe fears his off-field causes will get him cut. Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman disputes that.
“It has nothing to do with anything Chris Kluwe is off the field,” Spielman told reporters on Saturday, after the team used a fifth-round pick to acquire UCLA punter Jeff Locke. “When we’re making decisions, we’re purely making them, trying to bring in the best competition possible regardless of position. When we brought in the first three [first-round picks], we’re trying to create competition and see if they can upgrade us. This was just another normal personnel move. It had nothing to do with Chris Kluwe’s off-field concerns, I have no issues if Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinion, that’s his right, that’s his freedom of speech. This is just a football decision to bring in a guy to come in to compete.”
Though we’ve got no reason to doubt Spielman, we wouldn’t expect him or any other G.M. to admit that a player’s off-field issues ans interests were a factor choosing his position as one at which competition will come from a draft pick.
Last year, the decision to draft kicker Blair Walsh resulted in Ryan Longwell being cut before training camp. So will that happen again?
“I’m not going to comment on anything right now,” Spielman said in response to that question. “Right now we just finished the draft and finished signing college free agents so we’ll sit down with the coaches and analyze where we’re at with everything. But right now going forward, we expect that to be a competition.”
Still, Spielman needs to justify using a fifth-round pick on Locke. If Kluwe wins the job and Locke gets cut, it will look like a wasted pick.
Of course, Spielman wouldn’t have made Locke the pick if Spielman didn’t like Locke. And here’s why he does.
“One, the character,” Spielman said. “Two, he’s a left footed punter, which helps. Three, he’s a great directional kicker. Four, he’s excellent at getting the ball inside the 20. Very good holder, good athlete. So those were all the things, once we got into our draft meetings and then like last year we sent Coach Priefer out and did numerous private workouts and came back. When he came back and we were in our special-teams meetings he gave his input into it and then once we gathered all that information, that’s why we made the decision.”
Spielman explained that the different spin from a left-footed punter makes it harder for the return specialists. And he shared a little trade secret: “I know when we play teams that have left-footed punters, we always bring in a left footed punter for a workout that week just so our guys can get accustomed to that different spin.”
This year, chances are the Vikings will have to bring in a right-footed punter for a workout during the weeks they’re facing teams with right-footed punters.