Punter Chris Kluwe meets with Vikings brass, hopes for a fair fight
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Chris Kluwe met on Monday with Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who reiterated the decision to use a fifth-round draft pick on UCLA punter Jeff Locke over the weekend was strictly about football.
"They told me it's for competition purposes, and we'll see how it plays out," Kluwe said on Tuesday morning, in an interview with 1500 ESPN's "Judd & Dubay" show. "All I can do is just go out, punt to the best of my ability and trust in my body of work."
Kluwe, 31, said he was surprised by the selection even though he knew Priefer had been on the road working out Locke and other punters leading up to the draft.
He also openly wondered on Saturday in interviews with 1500 ESPN and other media outlets whether his off-field endeavors, including outspoken support for marriage equality, might have been a factor -- something Spielman has vehemently denied.
"I have the utmost respect for Chris Kluwe and if he does want to speak his mind," Spielman said on 1500 ESPN's "Sunday Morning SportsTalk" this past weekend.
"I'm all for the United States and the right to speak what you feel freely. When we're making decisions, we're making decisions based purely on football and what's best for our football team, and we're always trying to add competition regardless of what position it is."
Priefer left no doubt about about his feelings after Kluwe wore a "Vote Ray Guy" patch on his uniform in a game in December, though. He said the distractions were "getting old" and Kluwe needed solely "to focus on punting and holding."
"I think Mike regretted what he said," Spielman said on Sunday, "because, again, we have to deal with all kinds of issues, whether it's off-field issues with players, just like every NFL team does. But those are issues you have to deal with on a regular basis."
Kluwe, who has one year left on his contract with a salary of $1.4 million, said on Tuesday he can "only trust what they're telling me" and hopes his eight-year body of work -- including team records for career gross average (44.0) and punts downed inside the 20 (198) -- speaks for itself.
He also knows he might not get the chance. The Vikings cut veteran place-kicker Ryan Longwell last May 7, not long after using a sixth-round draft pick on Blair Walsh, who ended up earning a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie.
"If it's truly a fair and open competition, then I would love to compete," Kluwe said. "But if it's something that (Locke is) the direction they're going to go, then I would much rather be cut early and have a chance to find a job somewhere else."
Over the past 10 NFL Drafts (2003 to '12), NFL teams have drafted 20 punters, including nine in the first five rounds. Some have had short-lived careers, but the only one who never punted in a regular-season game was Brent Bowden, a sixth-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2010.
Locke, along with the rest of the Vikings' rookies, are scheduled to arrive on Thursday for the team's rookie minicamp this weekend. Kluwe, who also punted at UCLA, met the left-footer while attending the Bruins' game against USC during the Vikings' bye week this past fall.
"He seems like a great kid," Kluwe said. "He's got a good leg, and it looks like he works hard. I know he'll be ready to come out and try to do his best."