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Extra Points: 'Progressive' Kluwe done in by job performance

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Updated: 5/07/2013 2:02 pm

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Chris Kluwe is the most famous punter in the NFL but the acclaim was never generated from his play on the football field.

Kluwe has never been shy about speaking his mind and he is one of the smartest and most outspoken athletes in the world, often taking to social media to tackle controversial political issues like gay marriage.

Kluwe's often acerbic tongue wasn't a good mix with his boss, old school special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, a former military man who is big on raising his voice as a motivational tool.

Kluwe, on the other hand, entered UCLA with a perfect verbal score on his SAT, loved playing video games and was a guitarist in the band Tripping Icarus, not exactly a typical resume for a professional football player.

After Kluwe fashioned a makeshift "Vote Ray Guy" for the Hall of Fame patch over his jersey during a game last season, Priefer's frustrations boiled over when he was asked about his outspoken punter.

"Those distractions are getting old for me," Priefer said at the time before blurting out that he wished Kluwe would concentrate more on punting and holding.

Pressed to indicate if he shared any of those concerns with Kluwe, Priefer responded negatively and said, "He wouldn't listen, anyway."

Both sides are clearly at fault here. It's never a good idea to ignore your boss and that's what Priefer was while Kluwe was in Minnesota. On the other hand, Priefer isn't much of a coach if he can't handle different types of personalities. Not everyone is going to respond to one simple motivational tool and a headstrong personality like Kluwe was never going to embrace a my way or the highway mentality.

At the end of the day, though, this wasn't about conflicting personalities or Vikings general manager Rick Spielman choosing sides.

Kluwe was cut on Monday because he was an average punter set to make $1.45 million next season, not because of any "progressive" views. The Vikings drafted a cheaper option, another UCLA product in Jeff Locke, a player who is a better fit for the team moving forward

Spielman actually flashed his thought process before last season when he jettisoned a locker room leader in Ryan Longwell in favor of rookie kicker Blair Walsh.

Minnesota is one of the few teams in football that still plays a ball control- based game in a passing league, so field position is key for the Vikings and Longwell had outlived his usefulness as a kickoff guy.

Walsh was a home run as a sixth-round draft pick out of Georgia, being named All-Pro after setting an NFL rookie record by making all 10 of his field goal attempts outside 50 yards and tilting the field with his booming kickoffs.

Unlike Longwell, Kluwe still has a pretty big leg, but the Vikings have given up a ton of returns since he has been the team's punter. Some of them have been due to Kluwe's struggles in directional kicking and his frustrating habit of outkicking his coverage down the middle of the field, giving big-time return men multiple options.

Few who follow the Vikings will forget their visit to New Orleans in 2008 when Reggie Bush returned two punts for touchdowns and nearly had a third before tripping himself in the open field. Yeah, the coverage units for Minny were awful that season but it seemed like Brad Childress' head was going to explode if Kluwe kicked it right down Broadway one more time.

Devin Hester returned three of his 12 career punt return touchdowns against Kluwe and Co., so despite the self-proclaimed title as "best punter in Vikings history," Kluwe was anything but.

He did average a career-high 39.7 net yards per punt last year, but that was only good for 17th in the NFL, and Kluwe struggled to pin opponents deep. His 18 punts inside the 20-yard line were a dismal 31st in the league.

Locke conversely has an even bigger leg than Kluwe and is far more likely to follow directions, something Priefer is probably giddy about. The left-footed kicker led the Pac-12 with 34 punts inside the 20 and landing 21 inside the 10-yard line.

At first, Kluwe thought this was all about his mouth and not his performance or contract.

"I feel there are important societal issues that need to be talked about," he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "At the end of the day, we're playing a children's game, and there are legitimate societal issues we need to fix. If that involves me jeopardizing my NFL career, that's a trade I'll make."

To Kluwe's credit, he tempered his original thesis a bit and was far more philosophical after being released.

"So long, Minnesota, and thanks for all the fish!" Kluwe tweeted, referencing "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" comic book series.

"Thank you to all the fans, my teammates, and the Wilf family for the past 8.5 years. I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

"And thank you everyone for your support. Remember, one label does not define who you are as a person :)"

Let's remember Spielman actually did Kluwe a favor by releasing him in May. The Vikings' personnel chief could have held onto the veteran through training camp and hedged his bets, eventually releasing Kluwe after every roster was set.

"Chris has meant a great deal to the Vikings both on and off the field in his eight seasons here," Spielman said in a statement. "He contributed to many victories and we wish Chris and his family the best and thank him for his contributions to the Vikings organization. Out of respect to Chris, we decided to release him now and allow time for him to sign with another team."

Kluwe's act may have gotten old to some in Minnesota, but he will get a chance elsewhere and if he punts like his hero - the should-be Hall of Famer Guy - none of his political beliefs will ever be an issue.

Performance (and money) will always dwarf politics in the NFL.

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