Greg Joesph’s 61-yard kick to beat the New York Giants in the regular season set a Minnesota Vikings franchise record. His five game-winning field goals broke an NFL record. Joseph nailed five field goals in London, including the game-winner that bailed the Vikings out of a game they almost lost to an Andy Dalton-led New Orleans Saints team without Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas.
But Joesph missed six extra points, and his 87% conversion rate was the worst since his rookie year. His 78.8% field goal percentage was the lowest of his career. Joseph was perfect from 20 to 39 yards and was 7/8 from 40 to 49 yards. But he was 4/10 from 50-plus yards out. He’s a microcosm of Minnesota’s franchise-long kicking woes. Joseph kicked the ball off an Arizona Cardinals player’s helmet on a 56-yard attempt in Week 8 and missed an extra point that would have put the Vikings up two possessions late.
It was the same team he missed a chip shot against in 2021 that sent the Vikings to an 0-2 start.
Special teams coordinator Matt Daniels stuck by him the entire time, though. After missing an extra point against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving, Joseph was 31st in field goals and last in extra-point percentage entering Week 13. “I still got the utmost truest faith in Greg,” Daniels said after that game. “You look at it, he’s had three games he’s kicked for us where we’ve needed him the most, and he’s stepped up and responded in the right way.”
Daniels mentioned that Joseph had played well against the Saints and on the road against the Buffalo Bills and Washington Commanders. Joseph missed an extra point in the fourth quarter against Buffalo, but he made an extra point and game-winning field goal in overtime. He was perfect in Washington. “That’s what you look for in a kicker,” Daniels said, “that mental fortitude or toughness.”
Many coaches will praise their kicker in the season and usher them out the door as soon as it ends. But Daniels seemed genuinely invested in Joseph, as he is with many of his special teamers. Joseph responded well after the New England game. He made one of 12 field goals (83.3%) from Week 14 to Week 18 and was 16/17 (94.1%) on extra points. His worst game was a 1/3 effort in Green Bay, but Joseph was hardly most at fault for that disaster. And he missed a PAT in Chicago, an ominous sign before playoffs. But he was perfect in the Round 1 loss to the Giants.
On Tuesday, Joseph’s agent Brett Tessler announced that the Vikings had extended his client. Joseph agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal, which indicates that he’ll be Minnesota’s starting kicker next year. Joseph was 7/9 from 50-plus yards out last season, but he doesn’t need to be Greg the Leg for this contract to work out. He just can’t give fans heart palpitations. His missed extra point against the Cardinals last year kept the Vikings from putting that game out of reach. His 2021 miss in Arizona cost them the game.
The Vikings won’t go 11-1 in one-score games in 2023. They were historically good in the clutch this season – until they weren’t. But they will need Joseph to make the kicks that he should. They cut Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen to become cap compliant and will face a tougher schedule next season. They will need at least 10 wins to take the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers will be competitive if Jordan Love is competent. The Detroit Lions should be better with another year under Dan Campbell, and they could be a monster if they sign Lamar Jackson. The Chicago Bears are still the Bears. Still, winning the division is hardly a formality.
It will always be hard to fully believe in Minnesota’s special teams, especially the kicker. But Daniels should restore some faith in the unit. He’s a charismatic, forward-thinking coach with a plan for each position. He lobbied the front office to trade for Jalen Reagor, so he had a steady returner last year. Rookie punter Ryan Wright played well last year and rewarded Daniels for his faith in him. And the Vikings re-signed the 35-year-old Pro Bowl long snapper Andrew DePaola to a three-year, $4 million contract.
Daniels built out a unit he trusts, and he’s creating special-teams continuity that the Vikings never had in the Mike Zimmer era. Daniels, 33, has gone to great lengths to build pride within the unit, placing plaques in each of their lockers that extoll the virtues of special teams. When things became monotonous toward the end of the season, Daniels had the players lead meetings. He has nicknames for all the players. He’s also charismatic and affable, inviting buy-in from players who would rather be part of the offense or defense.
And now he’s got his punter, kicker, and long snapper back. Mr. Wright will work to build off his impressive rookie season. Daniels knighted DePaola as Sir Po and made him a team leader. And Joseph, who he calls G-Money, will be expected to continue the strong end to his season. You don’t need to have complete faith in Joseph to get on board with his extension. Rather, you have to believe in Daniels, who’s trying to change special teams in Minnesota one nickname at a time.