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Updated: May 7th, 2012 4:58pm
Vikings jettison kicker Ryan Longwell in surprise move

Vikings jettison kicker Ryan Longwell in surprise move

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Vikings cut veteran kicker Ryan Longwell on Monday afternoon, according to NFL sources.

The decision comes after the Vikings surprised many by using a sixth-round pick on Georgia kicker Blair Walsh a week ago Saturday in the NFL draft. Walsh is now the only kicker on the roster.

Longwell tweeted, "To all in Viking Nation. Can't thank you enough for your cheers over the past 6 years! You've been awesome to me and my family. God Bless!"

The Vikings confirmed the roster move in a release later in the day.

Longwell's release comes after he signed a four-year, $12 million contract to remain with the Vikings last July after the NFL lockout. The deal included a $3.5 million signing bonus and Longwell was due to make a $1.75 million base salary in 2012.

"Ryan has meant a great deal to the Vikings organization both on and off the field over the past six seasons," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said in a statement. "We wish him all the best in the future and thank him for his service to the Minnesota Vikings."

A league source said the Vikings told Longwell that they are moving on and that the decision was not a mutual one.

Longwell joined the Vikings as a free agent in 2006 after spending his first nine seasons with arch-rival Green Bay.

He made 84 percent of his field-goal attempts (21 of 25) in his first season with the Vikings and then 83.3 percent (20 of 24) in his second season. That percentage went up to 85.3 percent (29 of 34) in 2008, 92.2 percent (26 of 28) in 2009 and 94.4 percent (17 of 18) in 2010. That made Longwell the NFL's most accurate kicker over the 2009 and '10 seasons.

However, last season Longwell's percentage dropped to 78.6 percent as he made 22 of 28 attempts. In fairness, Longwell was not solely to fault for the struggles of the kicking game.

Regular long snapper Cullen Loeffler suffered a season-ending back injury in late November and newcomer Matt Katula struggled at times with his snaps, causing issues for Longwell and holder Chris Kluwe.

Longwell, who has played 15 NFL seasons, will turn 38 years old on Aug. 16. While he was considered a reliable field-goal kicker, Longwell was never known for his distance on kickoffs. Last season, when the spot for kickoffs was moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line, Longwell finished with a career-high 19 touchbacks.

That tied the Buffalo Bills for 28th in the NFL ahead of the New York Jets (17), the St. Louis Rams (15) and the Cleveland Browns (10).

"Sad to see Ryan go, both as a teammate and as a friend," Kluwe tweeted on Monday evening. "Unfortunately, that's the business of the NFL; we all get replaced eventually."

Longwell played college football for the Cal Golden Bears and began his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers. He never played a game for the 49ers and was picked up off waivers by the Packers in 1997.

Longwell became very good friends with Packers quarterback Brett Favre while in Green Bay and was one reason Favre embraced the opportunity to come to the Vikings in 2009 after a season with the New York Jets.

Longwell joined veterans Jared Allen and Steve Hutchinson in being dispatched to Hattiesburg, Miss., in the summer of 2010 to convince Favre to return with them to Minnesota during training camp.

As for Walsh, he comes to the Vikings after having a difficult senior season at Georgia. He converted 76 of 103 field-goal attempts (73.8%) over four seasons with the Bulldogs but made only 21 of 35 field-goal attempts last season. The 35 attempts led the nation and 10 of his 14 misses were from 40 yards or beyond.

"It didn't surprise me," to be drafted by the Vikings, Walsh said on the day he was selected. "(Vikings special teams coordinator Mike) Priefer had come in and worked me out and I played under his dad at the East-West game and I knew he was very interested. He's a great coach and I'm happy to be playing underneath him."

There's no doubting Walsh's leg strength -- he made 10 of 17 attempts from 50 yards and beyond. He also missed only one of his 185 career extra-point attempts, making a school-record 119 in a row before his first miss.

"My senior year didn't go the way I wanted it to," Walsh said. "I ended up missing early on in the season and I started to press a little bit. I'm my own worst critic and I just wanted to be there for the team and help the team out. I sort of got it back on track around the middle to end of the season. I learned from it and I think I'm a better man and better kicker for it." 

Tom Pelissero contributed

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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