By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kickers don’t typically generate the most discussion in the NFL offseason. A reliable kicker is nevertheless quite instrumental to a successful team. (If you remain unconvinced, just ask the Chicago Bears.)
So, the Patriots’ plans for kicker Stephen Gostkowski figure to be a pretty important storyline this offseason. And ESPN’s Adam Schefter dropped a nugget of news on the matter on Tuesday morning.
According to Shefter, the Patriots may use “some form of tag” on Gostkowski between now and the March 5 deadline.
The 35-year-old Gostkowski was drafted by the Patriots in 2006, replacing the legendary Adam Vinatieri. Coincidentally, the Patriots had used the franchise tag to retain the services of Vinatieri, albeit when Vinatieri was a couple of years younger than Gostkowski’s current age.
If the Patriots do use the franchise tag on Gostkowski, they’ll owe him close to $6 million for the 2019 season.
(Over The Cap projects the number to be closer to $5.1 million.)
The team has used the franchise tag on Gostkowski before, back in 2015. Later that offseason, the two sides agreed on a multi-year contract, a four-year deal worth $17.2 million. Gostkowski’s $5 million cap hit took up 2.8 percent of the team’s cap space in 2018. With the salary cap going up by at least $10 million for the 2019 season, a one-year cap hit between $5 and $6 million would not significantly change Gostkowski’s impact on the overall salary cap. A cap hit closer to $5 million would actually see a decrease in Gostkowski’s salary cap percentage.
Gostkowski successfully kicked 84.4 percent of his field goal attempts this season, a number slightly skewed by his 2-for-5 mark on 50-plus yard attempts. On all kicks under 50 yards, he was 25-for-27 — a 92.6 percent success rate. He also went 49-for-50 on PATs.
Though he missed a 46-yarder against the Rams, he did successfully kick two field goals — including a 41-yard field goal to make it a two-possession lead for the Patriots with 1:12 left in the game.
“I felt weirdly calm and weirdly comfortable,” Gostkowski said after that win. “The one I missed before was in the middle and it threw me off a little bit and this one was in the middle too. Ninety percent of the kicks you get during the season are on a hash. I went out there and chuckled at myself, ‘Oh, here’s another middle kick’. Holder Ryan Allen and long snapper Joe Cardona did a great job. I was weirdly calm, I wanted that opportunity. I guess good things come to those who wait. It was my sixth Super Bowl to play in and to start off the game missing and being able to come back and have a positive impact in the game is a dream come true.”
With an 87.381 percent success rate on field goals, Gostkowski owns the third-best mark of all time, behind only Justin Tucker (90.114%) and Robbie Gould (87.745%). If Gostkowski successfully kicks 31 field goals next year — he’s average 31 per year over the past four seasons — then he’ll likely move into the top 10 all time for made field goals. (The soon-to-be-44-year-old Matt Bryant currently has 21 more successful field goals than Gostkowski, and thus may keep Gostkowski from reaching the top 10 next year.)
Yet Gostkowski has developed a habit of missing a kick in big games in recent years. He missed a PAT in Denver in the 2015 AFC title game, a miss which forced the Patriots to (unsuccessfully) go for two on what could have been the game-tying touchdown in the final minutes of the fourth. He missed a PAT in the 2016 AFC title game and in Super Bowl LI vs. the Falcons. The following year in Super Bowl LII vs. the Eagles, he missed an extra point and a 26-yard field goal — though that miss came after a bad snap. And this past season in Super Bowl LIII vs. the Rams, Gostkowski missed a 46-yarder. All of those Super Bowl misses came indoors.
Still, Gostkowski’s been a significant contributor to a team that’s made four of the last five Super Bowls and has won three of them. He certainly has value. Whether that value is close to $6 million for an age 35 season, or whether the team might actually move on to a younger, cheaper option is something Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will have to decide in the coming few weeks.
The Patriots have used the franchise tag on the kicker position three times during Belichick’s tenure — twice on Vinatieri (2002, 2005) and once on Gostkowski (2015). The other notable Patriots set to become unrestricted free agents are defensive end Trey Flowers, left tackle Trent Brown, cornerback Jason McCourty, punter Ryan Allen, and a trio of wide receivers in Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson.