The decision Monday by the Vikings to release kicker Ryan Longwell came as a surprise to many. The surprise was due in part to the elimination of the competition that was expected between Longwell and sixth-round rookie Blair Walsh. It was also due in part to the fact that he signed a four-year, $12 million deal less than a year ago that included a $3.5 million signing bonus.
What changed so much over the last year that Longwell went from being a vested veteran to a roster casualty? The same thing that happened when Denny Green took charge, when Mike Tice took charge and when Brad Childress took charge – there was a new sheriff in town and he was building a team in his vision. General manager Rick Spielman is clearly doing that in his first year as the man with the final say on the composition of the Vikings roster. Longwell became a casualty of that change – and put the rest of the roster on notice that there is a new order in charge of the franchise.
When Green was hired to replace Jerry Burns, one of the first things he did was root out some of the veterans that were part of the old regime. Herschel Walker was sent packing. Also gone were veterans like Joey Browner, Wade Wilson, Mike Merriweather and Darrin Nelson. He built a team in his own image and made the Vikings a playoff contender year after year.
As the team imploded in 2001 following two NFC Championship Game losses in the previous three seasons, Green orchestrated his own release and Tice took over. With the coaching change came a roster change. Cris Carter went away. So did Ed McDaniel, Kailee Wong, Orlando Thomas and Dale Carter. It was a new era and the old were pushed aside for a new vision of the future.
The Tice era became known more for its gaffes than its achievements and, when the Love Boat scandal blew up and Tice appeared to be the dean of boys at Delta House, he had to go. Childress was brought in ostensibly to “clean up” the lack of moral fiber perceived on the team. One of his first moves was to get rid of quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Also shown the door were 2005 starters Travis Taylor, Chris Liewinski, Adam Goldberg, Marcus Robinson, Jermaine Wiggins, Moe Williams, Keith Newman, Sam Cowart, Brian Williams, Corey Chavous and Paul Edinger. Even Vikings fans needed a scorecard at training camp to recognize all the new faces and new numbers on the Vikings roster.
Although Spielman was technically in the role of general manager, he didn’t have the job description that goes with it. He had a big hand in dealing with the draft and free agency, but Childress had the power when it came to who stayed and who went. To a lesser extent, Leslie Frazier inherited that role – as evidenced by the ill-fated signing of Donovan McNabb last year. Following the disastrous 2011 season, Spielman was promoted to general manager and has begun the task of reforming the team in his vision, not that of Frazier or Childress.
As things currently stand, Longwell is out – as well as several key players from last year, including Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Cedric Griffin, E.J. Henderson, Husain Abdullah, Tyrell Johnson, Visanthe Shiancoe. It’s rare when seven starters (eight counting Longwell) get shown the door simultaneously. But, if anything, history has told us it not only should have been expected, it was almost inevitable.
While the Longwell release was a surprise to many, it’s just the latest step in the Spielman era taking hold in Minnesota. It happened with Green. It happened with Tice. It happened with Chilly. In each instance, the roster was turned over markedly and the organization moved forward with a new outlook and, in all cases, a ton of new faces on the roster. Green, Tice and Childress all led the Vikings back to the playoffs – with Green and Chilly getting the team within a win of the Super Bowl three times. Will Spielman enjoy similar success in the coming years? Only time will bear that out, but he has taken the same blueprint the last three “new sheriffs” have taken and is looking to replicate or exceed their success. It’s unfortunate it has to come at the expense of popular veterans like Hutchinson, Herrera, Shiancoe and Longwell, but it’s how business is done in the NFL.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.