EAGAN, Minn. — Kevin McDermott was unchallenged as the Vikings’ long snapper over the past three seasons. That changed this spring.
Minnesota selected Air Force long snapper Austin Cutting in the seventh round of the NFL draft in April, and he has been competing with McDermott for a roster spot ever since. That continues during a three-day mandatory minicamp that starts Tuesday, June 11, at the TCO Performance Center.
It remains to be seen if Cutting, who has a two-year service commitment, will be able to play in the NFL in 2019. For now, McDermott is facing the challenge of making the team head on.
“Competition is always a good thing,” McDermott said. “It improves performance, and, so you know, I’m still here competing to be the long snapper for the 2019 season.”
McDermott, 29, has been Minnesota’s long snapper since 2015, when he beat out Cullen Loeffler, who held the job for 11 seasons. After the Vikings drafted Cutting, McDermott was not provided specifics on why the move was made.
“I’m not sure of all the reasons behind it, and, honestly, I don’t really have much worry about it,” McDermott said. “My job is to just focus on going out every day and showing them I’m good enough to be the guy.”
Air Force spokesman Troy Garnhart said Monday the public affairs office informed him “it will be much later this summer before any determination is made” on Cutting’s NFL status for 2019.
Cutting, 21, is on a 60-day leave following his May 30 graduation from Air Force. A source said the plan now is for Cutting, at the end of that leave, to be stationed near Omaha, Neb., the closest possible available place to Minnesota.
The source said that situation remains fluid, but Cutting is expected to be on hand when training camp begins in late July.
If Cutting is able to play in 2019 and McDermott is released, that would save the Vikings, who have salary-cap issues, about $200,000. Cutting, who has yet to sign his rookie contract, is in line to have a cap number of $513,644, not among the top 51 salaries for Vikings players. McDermott is on the books for a $960,000 cap number, but would incur $200,000 of dead money if released.
McDermott lost the top of his left pinky last September in a game against the Los Angeles Rams when it was caught in a face mask, but he was able to return to the game. He said suffering the injury has not affected his snapping.
For now, McDermott is ready to continue what he said has been a respectful battle with Cutting.
“I don’t look at it as he’s my enemy,” McDermott said. “I look at it as he’s a teammate, and if he has a question, we go over things and I help try to explain stuff to him. I’m trying to learn things from him, and we’ll go down the path and see what happens.”
Long snapper might not the only competition the Vikings have on special teams. A source said Sunday the Vikings will bring in free agents Justin Vogel and Shane Tripucka on Wednesday and at least one other punter for a workout. One of them could be signed to provide competition in training camp for Matt Wile, who averaged 42.0 yards net with Minnesota last year but had some issues as the holder.
General manager Rick Spielman said last week that Wile is “working hard” on his holding and that he has it has helped him having time during the offseason to get more comfortable with the other specialists. Wile joined the Vikings the week before the start of the 2018 regular season; kicker Dan Bailey was signed two weeks into the season.
Spielman also spoke about another area of special teams he hopes will improve. Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer left in January for a similar position with Cleveland and was replaced in February by Marwan Maalouf, who spent the past six seasons as Miami’s assistant special teams coach.
“Miami led the league the last couple years in blocked punts and blocked field goals,” Spielman said. “So, just sitting in a couple of (Maalouf’s) meetings, seeing the schematic things that he’s looking at probably a little differently than we’ve done in the past … can make a difference. Hopefully, a blocked punt or a field goal helps us win a game.”