- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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This one you could see coming a mile away.
A year after drafting a place-kicker to replace their veteran incumbent, the Minnesota Vikings appear to have done the same at their other specialist position. They just made UCLA's Jeff Locke the first punter taken in the 2013 draft, at No. 155 overall in the fifth round, and that probably means the end of Chris Kluwe's eight-year run with the team.
Kluwe might be the best punter in Vikings history, but his inconsistent performance and diverted attention clearly gnawed at special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer last season. Priefer criticized Kluwe publicly for attaching a handwritten note on his game jersey promoting Ray Guy's candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and then expressed frustration that Kluwe wouldn't have listened if he had tried to admonish him. When a coach admits a player won't listen to him, you can assume that something will eventually shake loose there.
General manager Rick Spielman refused to discuss Kluwe's future in an interview in March, and it became clear early this month that the team was working out most of the draft's top punters. Locke was one of several the Vikings worked out; he is a left-footed punter who averaged 44.2 yards per punt at UCLA and also led the nation in touchback percentage as a kickoff man.
Teams rarely use draft picks on kickers, so you can rest assured the Vikings didn't devote one Saturday just to provide Kluwe with competition. Last year, they released place-kicker Ryan Longwell days after rookie Blair Walsh's reassuring performance in the Vikings' post-draft rookie minicamp.
Kluwe is entering the final year of a deal that would pay him $1.45 million in 2013. He would not count against the Vikings' salary cap at all if he were cut because the maximum five-year pro-ration of his contract is over. If and when that happens, we'll have a more thoughtful discussion about the impact -- or lack thereof -- that Kluwe's public activism might have had on the decision.
Via Twitter, Kluwe responded with what I think is a reference to the movie "Dodgeball:" "That's a bold move Cotton. Lets see how it plays."
I wouldn't have expected anything less.