While gaining a significant following due to his being a gaming enthusiast and bassist for local band Tripping Icarus, Kluwe's profile went into hyperspace with his tireless advocacy for legalizing same-sex marriage (His Deadspin piece lighting up a Maryland state delegate who opposed gay marriage has, to date, received approximately 3 million views). It also resulted in countless media appearances, including venues like Ellen, The Colbert Report, The Tom Barnard Podcast and the highly rated Northern Alliance Radio Network program The Closer.
So when Kluwe's on-field performance floundered a bit midseason 2012, some may have attributed it to his off-field excursions. Special Teams coach Mike Priefer was one of Kluwe's most outspoken critics, specifically when it came to Kluwe's efforts to support punter Ray Guy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When asked about the $5,250 fine that Kluwe incurred for putting "Vote Ray Guy" over a patch on his jersey commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer delivered a sharp rebuke.
"I don't even want to talk about that," Priefer said Thursday. "Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you. Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there's other ways of going about doing it, in my opinion."
So in the end, was Kluwe released because he became too much of a distraction or lacked the proper focus? ESPN.com's Kevin Siefert, who blogs about all things NFC North, weighs in.
I just don't think it's that simple. When viewed through the bigger picture of NFL business, and in the context of the Vikings' personnel approach over the past 16 months, you realize that Kluwe's off-field life was at best the final shove at the end of the plank.
- Kluwe finished 2012 ranked No. 31 among NFL punters in a statistic the Vikings value highly: punts downed inside the 20. Of Kluwe's 72 punts, 18 settled in what the league considers poor field position. By comparison, the Chicago Bears' Adam Podlesh nearly doubled Kluwe's total among his 81 punts. Podlesh finished with 34, while Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay had 30 in 70 punts.
- Kluwe set a career high with a 39.9-yard net average, but that mark still ranked in the lower half (No. 18 overall) among punters.
- In a relatively flat salary-cap era, the Vikings had an opportunity for significant savings. Because of a rarely needed NFL rule, Kluwe has no acceleration remaining on his six-year deal. Thus, all of his projected $1.45 million cap figure has been erased. His replacement, Jeff Locke, will count about a third of that total. In two years, in fact, the Vikings have shaved 23 years off the combined age of their punter and place-kicker and have lowered their cap commitment for those roles by two-thirds.
So in cold business terms, the Vikings had a 31-year-old punter who turned in a below-average performance last season and was entering the final year of his contract. They had several options, including keeping Kluwe for one more season, before deciding whether to re-sign him.
Remember, it was Priefer who suggested last year that the Vikings would be better off jettisoning reliable veteran placekicker (and all-around great guy) Ryan Longwell in favor of a kicker drafted in the six round who made only 60% of his field goals his senior year at Georgia. Nevertheless, Priefer felt the issues Blair Walsh endured his final collegiate season were correctable. The result? Walsh hit 92.1% of his field goal attempts (an NFL rookie record), including hitting all ten tries from 50 yards or more, which is an all-time NFL record. As a result, Priefer has the clout (for better or worse) within the Vikings organization when he insists that the 2013 fifth round pick, punter Jeff Locke out of UCLA, would be a more than suitable replacement for Kluwe.
In the end, this appeared to be more an on-field business decision than anything else. But to say Kluwe's advocacy had absolutely nothing to do with his release might be a bit naive.