When tracing the history of Vikings kicking woes, you can go back any number of years. But for some real symmetry let's just stick with what has happened in Mike Zimmer's seven seasons as head coach.
The release of Dan Bailey on Tuesday sent me down this path, and it turned into a rather remarkable journey that can be interpreted in, I suppose, a couple different ways (and maybe both).
Since Zimmer took over in 2014, the Vikings have employed four placekickers: Blair Walsh, Kai Forbath, Daniel Carlson and Bailey.
Those four kickers, in the years Zimmer's Vikings have missed the playoffs — 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 — combined to make just 90 of 120 field goal attempts. That's 75%, well below the typical league average of around 84% during that time.
Walsh, Forbath and Bailey in the years Zimmer's Vikings have made the playoffs — 2015, 2017 and 2019 — combined to make 93 of 106 field goals. That's 88%, better than the league average.
What seems clear is that kicking problems have at least played a role in keeping the Vikings from the playoffs in multiple seasons — and that when the team manages to enjoy at least temporary stability and accuracy from its kickers, it enhances their chances of making the playoffs.
If you believe in some sort of odd-even trend, at least there seems to be some good news: the Vikings are due for good kicking in 2021 from whomever winds up with the job, and if that happens a playoff berth sure could follow.
What isn't exactly clear from the numbers is whether poor kicking is just a symptom of overall problems in those seasons or a real driver of dysfunction. It is here that I will point out that in the two years Zimmer's Vikings made an in-season kicking change (2016 and 2018) they also made an in-season change at offensive coordinator.
Whatever the case, the carousel continues with Bailey now gone. Whether you see that as a net-positive (the chance at a clean slate after Bailey struggled in 2020) or a net-negative (history tells us there's no guarantee the next kicker will be any better, and continuous change in general is not a good sign at that position) it is the reality going into 2021.
It seemed like the Vikings had it figured out when Bailey had a solid 2019 season, just as it seemed before him like Walsh could have a long career kicking here. Perhaps they threw away a chance at stability when they moved on from Forbath after 2017 (he's 17 of 19 on field goals for various teams since then) or Carlson early in 2018 (87.2% for the Raiders on field goals since he arrived there after the Vikings cut him).
But there's enough evidence now to suggest at least this: The Vikings need at least a one-year solution in 2021 if they expect to make the playoffs.