Decision to sign Lloyd made Longwell think about life after football
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- On the same March day they paid Ryan Longwell a $500,000 roster bonus, the Minnesota Vikings called their veteran place-kicker to say they were trying to sign kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd.
He had a long talk with his wife, Sarah, who encouraged Longwell to focus some time on his other passion, golf, and take a shot at qualifying for the U.S. Open.
"I got that call and talked to Sara about it and she says, 'Well, why don't we do this?'" Longwell recalled on Wednesday.
"'Go ahead and practice and do it and try to make a run at it and just kind of set yourself up for when it's all said and done.' Whether it's today, tomorrow or 10 years from now -- you just don't know in this business."
Longwell didn't come close to qualifying -- he shot 82 on May 10 at MetroWest Golf Club near his Orlando home, missing the cut by 13 strokes -- and he never had illusions about walking away from the final year of an NFL contract that will pay him another $1.5 million in base salary this fall.
Likewise, Lloyd is focusing solely on kickoffs and has no illusions about ousting an incumbent who hit a career-high 92.9 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2009.
But three months after getting the call, Longwell remains somewhat miffed about the Vikings' inclination to cut his role in half -- even if Lloyd still must prove it's worth carrying an extra kicker on the 53-man roster.
"I don't know that's it plus-minus in difference," Longwell said. "I've never been down this road before. I feel like I'm at the peak of what I'm done. Last year kicking off, I thought I did exactly what our plan was and what they asked me to do, so we'll see how it goes."
Besides the connotation of becoming a part-time player at age 35, Longwell's primary preoccupation is losing opportunities to judge the wind, and he said he's raised that concern with coaches.
The Vikings only have six outdoor games this season, but Longwell used a 41-yard field goal he hit in his only attempt last Dec. 28 at Chicago as evidence that information can play a crucial role.
"I'm not really concerned about employment, so to speak," Longwell said. "But it's just you want to be able to go out there and do what you do to the best of your ability, and you want all the tools to be able to do that."
Longwell also pointed out the directional-kickoff philosophy of special-teams coordinator Brian Murphy and the place-kicking struggles of some teams, including Dallas, that employed kickoff specialists last season.
Asked whether he's set on Lloyd in that role, coach Brad Childress said, "I'm not going to say that Ryan Longwell will never kick off -- he's going to have to keep that club sharp in his bag as well. Rhys Lloyd was brought in with a specific idea in mind, but still in all, you have to be able to come out and perform."
There's no question Lloyd has a powerful leg. In 13 seasons, Longwell has 66 touchbacks (6.1 percent), including five last season. Lloyd had 51 touchbacks (31.9 percent) over the past two seasons with Carolina, which made him a street free agent by not offering the minimum $1.101 million restricted tender.
"I'm here as a kickoff guy, and I know that," said Lloyd, the former Gopher who also drew interest from the New York Giants before signing a two-year, $1.385 million deal with the Vikings that included a $200,000 roster bonus in the first year.
"I'm quite happy to be that guy. I don't know, after my two-year contract, what the plans are. But my only focus right now is to do the kickoffs and help the special teams out."
Lloyd never has attempted a field goal in a regular-season NFL game, so Longwell's eventual replacement probably isn't on the roster. But with an expiring contract and fewer years ahead of Longwell than behind him, even Childress said his kicker's pondering of the future is understandable.
Longwell already has sought strategy advice from his friend, PGA Tour pro Charles Howell III, and plans to take another run at Open qualifying in 2011.
Where Longwell will be playing football the following fall -- who knows?
"Obviously, we know in my position that they don't carry a depth chart," Longwell said. "When there's two of you, it becomes a little more of a question."