On Tuesday, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they had cut ties with kicker Dan Bailey. This came as no surprise to the Minnesota faithful. I think I heard the cheers all the way over here in Central New York.
Moving on from Bailey was one of the obvious cuts that Spielman had to make. The 10-year veteran finished 2020 with a career-worst field goal percentage of 68.2%, and six missed extra points. It was time to move on, but it means Mike Zimmer will be looking for his fifth kicker in his eight seasons as head coach.
The rotating kicker position has been the bane of Zimmer’s existence, and none of the guys have really ever seen the daylight from Zim’s doghouse.
His continued public bashing is something I’ve never completely fathomed. It’s completely understandable to be frustrated when your should-be win turns into a loss, but it puts additional pressure on the guy who’s going to have fans trashing him all week anyway.
That’s not Zimmer’s style, though, and it led to some blunt postgame moments.
“Sometimes I get upset, and I say some things to some players who aren’t doing what I want them to do,” said Zimmer, following Blair Walsh’s two missed field goals in a win against the Oakland Raiders in 2015. “Sometimes, it’s good to get a little pressure put on by the coach.”
While lighting a fire under a player is necessary sometimes, it couldn’t have backfired worse for Zimmer. A missed 27-yard field goal ended the season and started the firestorm of issues Minnesota would have at the kicker position.
Kai Forbath had the next chance to grab the job. He found success in his first season with the team, not missing a single field goal. Yet halfway thru 2017, Forbath went cold on extra points.
After Forbath missed an extra point for the second consecutive game, Zimmer was asked if he was concerned. His answer was about as terse and pithy as it gets.
“Yes,” said Zimmer.
Kobra Kai would be another casualty during Zimmer’s reign and lead the way to Spielman taking Auburn product Daniel Carlson in the 2018 draft. The former Tiger’s run with Minnesota was abrupt, as Carlson was cut following a tie with the Packers in which he missed all three of his field-goal opportunities.
The following week Zimmer didn’t mince words regarding the decision to cut Carlson.
That clip is the one that just went too far. It’s like if you were a teacher, and one of your hard-working students failed a test. You wouldn’t necessarily lie to them and say they’re all good, but you also wouldn’t throw it in their face. Not to mention that you can’t be all that bitter when you throw a rookie kicker on an otherwise Super Bowl-contending roster.
This isn’t to overly criticize Zimmer. Many fans were thinking the same things about the last four kickers. Heck, Vikings fans have been dealing with kicking woes since 1998.
The thing is, Zimmer isn’t a fan and thus forfeits the same freedoms fans get in their rhetoric surrounding the team. Sometimes when your players are struggling, you have to eat your true feelings and have these conversations in the locker room.
Think about how Zimmer has responded to questions after Kirk Cousins has struggled at times. It’s always the same reassurance that he’ll get things going next game. Or this last season when the defense was terrible at the beginning of the year. Instead of totally shredding the unit apart, he always tried to tell us that hope was on the horizon.
Zimmer is far from a warm and cuddly coach, but that doesn’t mean he always has to be so tough on his kickers. He has to realize that there’s literally no reason to throw them under the bus because the fans will already do that.
Instead, instill some confidence in your kicker in the form of security. Even if it’s somewhat blind, it could still make all the difference. So much of kicking is mental. Carlson wasn’t necessarily a bad kicker; he just was in his own head. And he’s been a completely different player since joining the Raiders.
We don’t know yet who the next kicker is going to be. But it’s hard to believe that “fifth time’s the charm.” It might be time for Zimmer to think about how he handles him through thick and thin.