It’s OK to feel bad for kicker Dan Bailey. Even if the cesspool that is Vikings Twitter would suggest otherwise.
Honestly, it was painful to watch him turn into a puddle Sunday in Tampa, Fla., and while the harsh criticism on Twitter was understandable considering the 32-year-old kicker literally forgot how to kick, the hateful rhetoric that followed was not.
He already was having arguably the worst day of his sports life with millions of people watching it unfold. Isn’t that bad enough?
As much as Bailey probably deserves to be held to a higher standard as an athlete — he makes more than $3 million a season — he doesn’t deserve to have his character excoriated because he missed a few field goals. (And an extra point).
These dudes aren’t robots. They are human beings, like the rest of us. That’s an important distinction that frequently gets lost amid the hero worship.
Now, if the Vikings decide to cut Bailey this week, they would be justified in doing so.
This is a performance business and Bailey hasn’t performed in recent games against Jacksonville (a win) and Tampa Bay (a loss). He went 0 for 4 on kicks against the Buccaneers alone, and is 3 for 10 on kicks this month.
Still, if the Vikings do kick Bailey to the curb, they would be making an incredibly shortsighted mistake.
Under normal circumstances, changing kickers with less than a month left in the regular season is risky. Under current circumstances, changing kickers with less than a month left in the regular season could be catastrophic.
It’s already a delicate operation as is. It can take months to get the snap-hold-kick rhythm down perfectly.
Add in the fact that the crop of free-agent kickers is heavily depleted this season — most teams have signed a kicker to their practice squad due to COVID concerns — and the Vikings don’t have a lot of options right now.
Asked if he anticipated Bailey being the kicker for the Vikings for this Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears, coach Mike Zimmer replied, “I haven’t made a decision yet.”
He seemed to understand clearly that the Vikings don’t really have any good alternatives at this point.
They released practice-squad kicker Tristan Vizcaino on Tuesday afternoon, and while they worked out Taylor Bertolet, and plan to work out Chandler Catanzaro, neither player would be able to practice this week based on COVID protocols that require five days of testing to clear a free agent to join the team.
That, coupled with the fact that Bailey has an impressive track record, and it’s hard to see the Vikings parting ways right now.
“You have to look at history. You have to look at past performances. You have to look at the person,” Zimmer said. “Honestly, I love the kid. If we end up making a change, then it’s about what we feel at this particular point in time. We are in the performance business, and these last couple of weeks have not been good.”
In that same breath, Zimmer seemed to defend Bailey, something he has done rarely with struggling kickers throughout his career. Perhaps he has learned from criticism that seemed to shatter rookie kicker Daniel Carlson’s confidence a few seasons ago.
“If I cut everybody that made mistakes, we’d all be out of here, including me,” Zimmer said. “We’ll go with our gut and believe that whichever decision we make is right. It’s all we can do.”
For the Vikings, the decision should be pretty obvious.
With the unproven Vizcaino out of the mix, replacement options at the moment are either Bertolet, who has never kicked in an NFL game, or Catanzaro, who hasn’t kicked in the league in a couple of seasons.
Meanwhile, even taking this month’s meltdown into account, Bailey is 246 for 286 on field goals for his career, and right on the cusp of the Top 10 for most accurate kickers in NFL history.
That should speak louder than a couple of bad games.