For the next week or so, we’ll summarize everything that came out of the final Minnesota Vikings locker sessions before the team disbanded for the offseason. We’re calling it our End of Season Series.
While the entire sports world is focused on Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey, whose double-doink miss cost the Bears a trip to the NFC Divisional Playoffs, the Vikings also have questions at kicker entering the offseason.
Veteran Dan Bailey was signed in Week 3 to be the Vikings’ savior and provide stability after the disastrous three-miss outing in Week 2 from rookie Daniel Carlson, but Bailey offered more of the up-and-down play fans have grown accustomed to since they released veteran Ryan Longwell in 2012.
While Bailey went 30 of 31 on extra points, an area where predecessors Blair Walsh and Kai Forbath struggled, the 30-year-old missed a career-high seven of his 28 field goals, matching his 75 percent mark from 2017 when the Dallas Cowboys decided they’d likely move on from Bailey.
“I think, given the circumstance, on a personal level, I came in and thought it went OK,” Bailey said on Minnesota’s locker-clean-out day. “Definitely the last month personally, and then just as a unit, the whole operation with field goal and everything, I felt like we were really kind of gelling and working well. So I think it’s definitely trending upwards. There’s definitely a few kicks I’d certainly like to have back, but overall I think coming in with the situation the way it was, there’s a lot of positives to take away from it.”
The Vikings went 3-2 in games when Bailey missed field goals and 0-1 when he missed an extra point. He had a field goal blocked in a close game at Seattle that the league admitted should have been a leverage penalty on Bobby Wagner.
It didn’t help that Bailey missed two kicks in Philadelphia in just his third game with the Vikings, creating some apparent early distrust with the head coach. Bailey later missed from 48 and 56 yards in the the first half against the Green Bay Packers, prompting head coach Mike Zimmer to tell NBC’s Michele Tafoya that he’d be going for two points in the second half instead of putting the game in the hands of a kicker.
Some have questioned whether Bailey’s issues would be the final straw for special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who has gone through three punters and four kickers in four seasons, but the Vikings are reportedly interested in an extension for Priefer, the Vikings’ special teams coordinator since 2011. Priefer spent a lot of time working on holding with punter Matt Wile, who may have been the cause of some of Bailey’s mishits.
“I had a great experience with [Priefer],” said Bailey. “He’s very positive. The way he structures practice is great. I’ve been around, I think he’s my fourth coordinator now, and they’re all different. It was a positive experience for me. He pushed me every day, and I enjoyed coming to work every day, so I enjoyed working for him.”
But if Priefer returns, will Bailey be back as a fixture of his special teams units?
Bailey’s 75 percent mark — second-worst in the NFL last year — may keep his free agency price reasonable. He made just under $2 million in 2018. There are numerous veterans hitting free agency this offseason, including Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski, Robbie Gould and Sebastian Janikowski, but it’s unlikely the Vikings will want to devote a high-end contract to a kicker, even if those veterans are willing to switch teams.
Ultimately, the Vikings have lacked continuity on special teams over the last four years. For that reason, Minnesota may consider bringing Bailey back for another shot instead of starting over with a rookie or introducing a new veteran face.
“I enjoyed my time here,” Bailey said. “You get nine games inside including Detroit, so that’s kind of hard to beat. There’s a lot of positives of being up here. Obviously it’s not completely up to me as well, so all I can do is control what I can control, and that’s trying to get better, and that’s what I want to do. Then when the time comes to make those decisions I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”