Mike Priefer felt 'very strongly' Vikings needed to dump Chris Kluwe
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Mike Priefer didn't want to get too deep into specifics about why he felt the Minnesota Vikings dumped veteran punter Chris Kluwe last month.
But the Vikings' special teams coordinator said after Wednesday's minicamp practice he felt "very strongly" in writing his postseason evaluation that Kluwe had to go.
"It was more consistency and productivity," Priefer said in a response to a question about what factors, statistical or otherwise, contributed to the decision.
Asked if Kluwe could have improved his production, Priefer said simply, "I just felt like we needed to make a change there."
That report came one year after Priefer offered a similar opinion on veteran place-kicker Ryan Longwell, who was released in favor of sixth-round draft pick Blair Walsh -- and the rookie ended up making the Pro Bowl.
Kluwe, 31, posted a career-best net average of 39.7 yards on 72 punts last season, though that ranked only 17th in the NFL. The Vikings ranked 31st in punts inside the 20 (18) and 20th in gross average (45.0).
Always outspoken, Kluwe was known to have clashed on multiple occasions with Priefer, who said publicly his punter needed to focus on his job after Kluwe campaigned for marriage equality and wore a "Vote Ray Guy" sticker on his uniform during a game.
"A lot of people like to write and report that he and I didn't get along," Priefer said. "I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe. I think, based on what he's done in his career, as a man and as an athlete, and for anybody that stands up for what he believes in like Chris did, I have a lot of respect for guys like that."
The Vikings used a fifth-round draft pick (155th overall) in April on punter Jeff Locke, one of several punters Priefer worked out privately in the months leading up to the draft.
That day, Kluwe said he wanted to compete to keep his job -- but only if it was a fair fight. Instead, the Vikings released him nine days later and he agreed to a one-year, $890,000 minimum salary benefit contract with the Oakland Raiders.
"We had a long talk after the draft," Priefer said. "I thought he knew the writing was on the wall, and ... I wasn't going to lie to him. I figured if the young guy came in and had a good rookie minicamp, that was what was going to happen. I wish him the best of luck in Oakland. I really do."
Locke, 23, has punted sparingly in front of reporters during the offseason. But Priefer said the early returns have been favorable as they worked to clean up Locke's footwork, remove some wasted motion and improve his get-off time.
"Very talented, like we knew he was," Priefer said. "He's working very hard. I knew he'd be a hard worker -- I didn't realize to this extent. He does everything I've asked him to do drill-wise and more, is very conscientious. He's worked very hard as a holder as well. Everything's going in the right direction."