MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Vikings released punter Chris Kluwe on Monday, bringing an end to his colorful and outspoken eight-year stay in Minnesota.
Kluwe announced the news on Twitter shortly after meeting with Vikings GM Rick Spielman, a move that had been expected ever since the team spent a fifth-round draft pick on punter Jeff Locke at the end of last month.
Kluwe said he knew what was bound to happen as soon as he saw Locke come off the board and he was pleased to get his release earlier enough in the summer to give him a chance to catch on with another team.
"If that was the direction the Vikings wanted to go, it gives me a better chance to go to another team," Kluwe said in a phone conversation on Monday evening.
The 31-year-old Kluwe averaged 44.4 yards per punt over his career in Minnesota, including a career-high 39.7 yard net average last season.
But he ranked just 17th in the NFL in punting and was due to make $1.45 million this season, making him a prime target to be cut. He said he thinks he has four or five good years left in his playing career before he heads off to other endeavors, of which there are sure to be many.
During his time with the Vikings, Kluwe earned a reputation as one of the most opinionated players in the league. He criticized union leadership during the lockout, wore a patch on his uniform to protest the lack of punters in the Hall of Fame and, most notably, became a vocal supporter of gay rights, penning a number of thoughtful, and occasionally profane, columns on the issue for various websites. He also plays in a rock band in his spare time and is an avid video gamer.
"Whenever I was in the locker room or on the football field, I was focused entirely on football," Kluwe said. "It was my one and only focus. When I left the locker room to go home, I lived my life."
Kluwe's release means the league's two most vocal advocates for gay rights are now out of work. Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was cut by Baltimore in April.
Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made it clear later last season that Kluwe's headline-grabbing nature was wearing thin with him. When Kluwe was fined more than $5,000 for putting a message reading "Vote Ray Guy" over a patch on his jersey commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in December, Priefer voiced his displeasure.
"Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you," Priefer said. "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."
Kluwe said he couldn't say for sure if his off-the-field pursuits contributed to his release.
"I don't know," he said. "I wasn't in those meetings."
When the Vikings drafted Locke, Spielman was asked if Kluwe's outspoken nature would factor at all into the decision to keep him or cut him.
"I have no issues if Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinion," Spielman said then. "That's his right. That's his freedom of speech. This is just a football decision to bring in a guy and come in and compete."
In the end, Kluwe didn't get much of a chance to compete. Locke attended the team's first rookie camp over the weekend, and Kluwe was out a few days later.
It was a move similar to last season when the Vikings drafted kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round and quickly released the more experienced, and more expensive, Ryan Longwell.
"So sorry to hear about (Kluwe's release)...one of the best legs I've seen and best teammates I had in all my years," Longwell tweeted. "Do you believe in déjà vu??"
Also factoring into the decision is the Vikings will be playing their final season in the Metrodome before moving outdoors to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank stadium while their new stadium is built. Kluwe seemed to have a more difficult time punting outdoors and the Vikings hope the move to the younger Locke will help them in that area.
The Vikings also waived rookie receiver Nicholas Edwards and signed two other rookie free agents — Minnesota State, Mankato receiver Adam Thielen and Northern Iowa tackle Brandon Keith.