By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Stephen Gostkowski is the all-time leader in points scored by a New England Patriots, and it’s not particularly close. Gostkowski scored 617 more points than the second-placed Adam Vinatieri, successfully booted 111 more field goals than Vinatieri, and kicked 286 more PATs than Vinatieri.
Both kickers won three Super Bowls in New England, but Gostkowski successfully kicked 13 more field goals and 49 more PATs in the postseason.
Despite that prolific Patriots career, Gostkowski’s time in Foxboro came to a very unceremonious ending. After a hip injury helped cause him to miss four PATs and a field goal last season, Gostkowski was placed on IR. After the season, he was released, ending his 14-year run with the Patriots.
After that, the Patriots drafted kicker Justin Rohrwasser out of Marshall in the fifth round of the draft. Thus far in his NFL career, he’s had a tattoo controversy and a bad training camp, leading to his release at the end of the summer. (Worth noting: Rookie Rodrigo Blankenship, who was expected to be drafted but was overlooked by all 32 teams before signing with the Colts, is 8-for-10 on field goals thus far.) Rohrwasser has since been signed to the Patriots’ practice squad, while the Patriots have brought back veteran Nick Folk to do their kicking.
Now, after Gostkowski earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the seventh time in his career, it’s worth wondering: Did the Patriots make a mistake in letting him go?
Certainly in Week 1, that did not appear to be the case. Gostkowski was a bit of a wreck in his Titans debut, missing three field goals and an extra point. Yet he managed to kick the game-winning 25-yard field goal that night. The next week: another game-winner, this one from 49 yards. And in Week 3? A perfect 6-for-6 day on field goals, including a 55-yard bomb to win the game.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) September 29, 2020
Every Stephen Gostkowski made FG from today. 😏 pic.twitter.com/9LaOLjSdSt
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) September 28, 2020
Despite that uncharacteristically inaccurate start, Gostkowski is now leading the NFL with nine successful field goals. He’s 9-for-12 on field goals and 5-for-7 on PATs.
Folk, who’s less than a year younger than Gostkowski, is 4-for-6 on field goals and 9-for-10 on PATs for the Patriots.
Gostkowski is also an incredible 4-for-4 on field goals of 50 or more yards. Folk is 0-for-1 on such tries.
In Tennessee, Gostkowski is making just $2 million in base salary for the year, with roster bonuses that can add up to another $500,000.
Folk is slightly cheaper for New England ($1.05 million base salary), but the Patriots had been on the hook to pay Gostkowski $2 million if he hadn’t signed with another team. That is to say, the financial impact of going with Folk over Gostkowski does not appear to be a primary motivator for the decision.
Of course, it is still early. Gostkowski is 36 and is coming off hip surgery. The inaccuracy that plagued him last year and in Week 1 of this year could come back, and the Patriots could end up looking to have made the wise roster decision.
At the same time, Gostkowski could continue being Gostkowski, which is to say that he could continue his career as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history this year, next year, and beyond.
For New England, Folk will likely be Folk … which is to say he will make most of his PATs and short field goals but will remain spotty from distance. He’s 0-for-2 on field goals of 40 yards or more this year, and he was 4-for-7 on kicks in the 40-49 yard range a year ago. What was field goal range for the Patriots for 20-plus years may turn into punting territory. Certainly, 55-yard game-winners do not appear to be in the Patriots’ near future.
There’s no right or wrong answer at this exact moment. Yet considering the importance Gostkowski had to the Patriots for so long, it’s a question that is certain to pop up throughout the year as both the Patriots and Titans ride the ups and downs of their respective kickers.