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Updated: May 7th, 2012 8:56pm
Zulgad: Ryan Longwell's release latest reminder of GM's roster plan

Zulgad: Ryan Longwell's release latest reminder of GM's roster plan

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Vikings won three games in 2011 so no roster moves that followed that debacle of a season should come as a shock.

Nonetheless, it appeared that heading into the offseason kicker Ryan Longwell was probably safe.

Yes, Longwell's field-goal percentage dropped to 78.6 last season (22 of 28) and he was never known for his booming leg on kickoffs. But on a team that is going to be inexperienced in 2012, the soon-to-be 38-year-old appeared to be a guy who could provide some veteran savvy and a calming influence both on the field and in the locker room.

Longwell, an extremely classy individual, was among the go-to-guys for anyone looking for an honest analysis of what was going on with a team that during his six seasons in Minnesota went to an NFC title game but also had plenty of disappointing years (2006, 2010, 2011).

He also had been a captain on special teams.

In the end, these attributes didn't matter to new general manager Rick Spielman. Longwell was given his walking papers Monday.

The move serves as another reminder that for better or for worse - and this isn't all together a bad thing - now that Spielman has complete control of the roster, he has every intention of retooling it as much as he can. As much as we might be told differently, victories aren't going to be a primary concern this coming fall for the Vikings.

That's part (and I said part) of the reason why guys like offensive linemen Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin were shown the door in March.

Longwell was kept around until the Vikings surprised some by using a sixth-round pick on Georgia kicker Blair Walsh in the NFL draft last month.

Even Longwell's good friend and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe didn't seem outraged by the team's decision and anyone who follows Kluwe on Twitter knows he is prone to meltdowns.

"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."

Considering Longwell had signed a four-year, $12 million contract last July to remain with the Vikings, the immediate speculation after Walsh was drafted was that he would either serve as a kickoff specialist to begin his NFL career or that he would at least have to beat Longwell out for the job.

That competition never happened. Never even came close to happening.

The Vikings won't open training camp for another two-plus months and right now Walsh is the only kicker on the roster.

That doesn't mean another veteran won't be added, but in many ways this move signifies that Spielman clearly wants to give each and every one of his 10 draft choices the best opportunity possible to win a roster spot.

By all accounts Walsh has a big leg, but there were times last season when he was the equivalent of a young pitcher with great stuff but no idea where the ball was going. He made only 21 of 35 field-goal attempts and missed 10 times from 40 yards or beyond.

In a conference call with reporters after he was drafted and again following the media access at last weekend's rookie minicamp, Walsh fielded questions about competing with Longwell.

"You've just got to really do what you know how to do and do what you've been doing for the last six or seven years or however long I've been playing now," Walsh said of going against Longwell. "I'm confident in my abilities, but we'll see how it all shakes out. Just being on the same field with him and competing with him it's an honor."

It also was going to be added pressure that now has been removed.

Of course, the flip side is that Walsh now will enter camp knowing that he's expected to grab the kicking job at the NFL level. If he fails, odds are he will be given another chance.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder how Vikings coach Leslie Frazier feels about this latest move.

Spielman was the Vikings' vice president of player personnel at this time last season and shared decision-making responsibility with Frazier.

It's no secret that Frazier, who was given a three-year contract after the 2010 season, was convinced the Vikings could win immediately in 2011. The trade with Washington for quarterback Donovan McNabb had Frazier's fingerprints on it, while Spielman was the guy interested in starting over with 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder.

Spielman isn't about to admit it now, but given his choice it's very likely he would not have given Longwell a $3.5 million signing bonus for one season of work. In Spielman's perfect world, Longwell probably would have signed elsewhere last July and the Vikings would have either gone with a cheap veteran kicker or a youngster.

The issue was that a year ago Spielman did not have the power to begin a complete makeover of the Vikings roster.

He has that power now and as a result Longwell will be looking for employment elsewhere this season. 

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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