Dan Bailey once jogged on an embankment behind a set of uprights on the Vikings’ practice field, chasing footballs off Kaare Vedvik’s foot during an August training camp practice.
Bailey not only outlasted the 25-year-old Vedvik to keep his job, but he enjoyed a rebound season that stabilized the Vikings’ field goal operation with its best clearance rate (93.1%) since 2010. With veteran punter Britton Colquitt as his holder, Bailey and Colquitt gave the Vikings front office reasons to recommit after years of turnover at kicker and punter.
“Me, Austin [Cutting] and Dan meshed really well,” Colquitt said. “Clearly, he got a nice $1 million bonus, so I’m waiting for my caddie fee on that one. Would love to see us work something out, and be here to help the Vikings go to the next level.”
But outside of the improved kicking game, Vikings special teams were average at best under first-year coordinator Marwan Maalouf.
-Blocked one punt (LB Eric Wilson in Week 1), and had one kick blocked from the edge on a 48-yard extra point try in the Week 2 loss at Green Bay.
-Two takeaways: Intercepted Eagles kicker Jake Elliott in the Week 6 win and Mike Hughes forced a fumble on Chiefs returner Mecole Hardman in the Week 9 loss. Two turnovers: Fumbled away kickoff returns in the Week 11 win vs. Denver and Week 13 loss at Seattle.
-One of 20 NFL teams without a returned touchdown on kickoffs or punts. Returners Abdullah, Hughes and Chad Beebe were unspectacular ranking 15th on kickoff returns and 20th on punt returns, collectively.
-Kick coverage struggled. Did not surrender a touchdown, but allowed five returns of at least 30 yards to rank 27th (25.1 yards). That doesn’t include the Saints’ 54-yard return during the NFC wild-card playoff win in New Orleans.
-Punt coverage improved after allowing 46 yards on four returns to Kenjon Barner in the season opener. Finished 12th (6.8 yards) in punt coverage, while Colquitt ranked sixth with a career-best average of 42.6 net yards.
Below we’ll deliver 2019 grades for Vikings specialists, setting up the 2020 outlook.
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Eric Kendricks' 2019 makes him one of NFL's best linebackers
Danielle Hunter leads defensive line full of talent, questions
Anthony Harris, Xavier Rhodes and the evolving secondary
Pending free agents
K Dan Bailey
P Britton Colquitt
Under contract through (+ 2020 cap hit)
2022: LS Austin Cutting ($603K)
Grades are based on a 1-to-5 scale, with '5' marking excellence, '4' for above-average, '3' for average, '2' for below-average and '1' for failure to perform. Players that did not accrue a season (weren't on the active roster for at least six weeks) or played in five games or fewer are not graded. Below are individual grades, based on game and practice observations, weekly film reviews and interviews with coaches for three specialists who finished the season on the Vikings' active roster, injured reserve or practice squad .
K Dan Bailey (4.0) —Ninth-year NFL veteran had best season since his 2015 Pro Bowl campaign for the Cowboys. Made 23 consecutive field goals to end the season, including 4 of 4 in the playoffs. Tied career low with two missed field goals (27 of 29) in the regular season. Doubled career NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors with three such awards after going 4 of 4 in wins against the Giants, Redskins and Chargers. Stabilized the kicking game after signing a one-year, $1 million last spring, setting up his first full season after being signed in Week 3 of the 2018 season. Doubled his salary by hitting $1 million worth of incentives for clearing 90% on field goals. Few could see this coming. Bailey’s trusted process was engulfed in changes by last summer, starting with a new coordinator, newkicking coach Nate Kaedingand a rotation of long snappers and holders. Didn’t have a perfect practice in training camp until the 14th of 16 days, so the Vikings sent a 2020 fifth-round pick to Baltimore for another option in Vedvik. Bailey responded by going 9 of 9 in preseason games to keep his job. Vedvik was released. Veteran punter Britton Colquitt was cut by the Browns and signed a week before the season opener to be Bailey’s holder.
Found a groove immediately, starting 8 of 10 on field goals without a miss since. Good for a long of 50 yards in three games against Oakland, Washington and Detroit. Went 40 of 44 on extra-point attempts [91%], with one blocked. “Wasn’t the only one who made a mistake,” per head coach Mike Zimmer, on a miss in the Week 13 loss at Seattle. Career-high 75.9% touchback rate on kickoffs as the team’s coverage struggled. Set up well for a multi-year contract extension after one-year deals in Minnesota for the past two seasons. Turned 32 last month. Pending free agent.
P Britton Colquitt (4.0) —The 11th-year NFL veteran was just released by the Browns when he was driving to Buffalo on Sept. 1 to sign with the Bills. His agent, Paul Sheehy, called with word from the Vikings, changing the course of Colquitt’s trip and the team’s fortune after cycling through holders last summer. Said he “honestly had the best year of my career” after a career-high 42.6 net yards on a career-low 62 punts during the regular season. Led the NFL with zero touchbacks while pinning 12 punts inside the opponents’ 10-yard line. Too much leg during first touchback on opening, 57-yard punt in the NFC wild-card playoff win in New Orleans. Season-long, 59-yard punt came in Week 4 loss at Chicago, when gunner Kris Boyd’s missed tackle led to a 16-yard return by Tarik Cohen. Low point came at the end of the loss in Kansas City, where Colquitt shanked a 27-yard punt from inside his own 10-yard line while the game was tied with 1:55 left. Said he was trying to kick it away from Chiefs star Tyreek Hill and it got away from him. A few plays later, the Vikings lost off a 44-yard field goal. Shanked another the following week in Dallas to midfield. Otherwise brought consistency as the fourth different Vikings punter in the past four seasons. Turns 35 in March. Pending free agent.
LS Austin Cutting (3.0) —Replaced incumbent long snapper Kevin McDermott after being draftedin the seventh round (250th overall) out of Air Force. Officially won the job on Aug. 11 when the team released McDermott to stabilize the field goal operation around Bailey. Appeared in 16 games without game-altering mistakes.