NFL Kickers: $3 Million Well-Spent? A Story with Legs

Josh ZerkleChief Writer IIIMarch 6, 2012

Bengals K Mike Nugent was one of five kickers franchised before Monday's deadline.
Bengals K Mike Nugent was one of five kickers franchised before Monday's deadline.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Five NFL kickers were slapped with the franchise tag by their teams before Monday's 4 p.m. deadline. That's a record. In doing so, those respective teams managed to lock down their kickers for 2012 at the price of $2.6 million. 

That's actually a good deal. 

Depending on how anyone feels about the franchise tag, it is doing its part to control costs or stifle salaries league-wide. But it's curious that of the 21 teams that decided to use this tool, over a quarter of them burned it on a special teams player (Giants punter Steve Weatherford was also tagged). 

Good legs are hard to find, and when they are found, they don't come cheap. Let's delve into that.

According to player salary information provided by Sportrac, seven kickers will earn $3 million or greater in 2012, as determined by their total salary divided by the term of their respective deals. And two more will come close to that plateau.



Oakland   K Sebastian Janikowski $4.000 2
Indianapolis   K Adam Vinatieri $3.467 2
New England   K Stephen Gostkowski $3.152 3
Carolina   K Olindo Mare $3.000 3
Minnesota   K Ryan Longwell $3.000 3
Tennessee   K Rob Bironas $3.000 1
San Francisco   K David Akers $3.000 2
Green Bay   K Mason Crosby $2.950 4
Baltimore   K Billy Cundiff $2.940 4

Yeah, that's Billy Cundiff at the bottom, the guy who missed a kick that could have put his team in the Super Bowl last January. And kicker Lawrence Tynes, who actually did play in the Super Bowl, didn't even make the list. Yeah, life is fair. 

BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 15:  Billy Cundiff #7 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts during the third quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermot
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Not included in that table are Chicago's Robbie Gould and Detroit's Jason Hanson, whose average salaries fall short of the $3 million mark. However, their cap numbers for 2012 do not. Keeping Gould will give the Bears a $3.2 million cap hit, while Hanson—the league's longest-tenured player with a single team in NFL history—carries a cap number of $3.225 million. Hanson probably remembers the days when kickers were lucky to play for warm bowls of porridge. 

So this suggests that franchising a kicker for $2.6 million makes better economic sense than stowing away more money in a multi-year deal. If you're a Ravens fan, I can almost hear you nodding along. By the way, enjoy Cundiff through 2015.

But what about the teams that didn't franchise anybody? What are their kicker situations?

Of the 11 NFL teams that did not use their franchise tag, eight of them had their respective kickers under contract for 2012.

Seattle   K Steven Hauschka RFA 0
Houston   K Neil Rackers FA 0
New York Jets   K Nick Folk FA 0
Carolina   K Olindo Mare $3.000 3
Minnesota   K Ryan Longwell $3.000 3
Green Bay   K Mason Crosby $2.950 4
St. Louis   K Josh Brown $2.840 1
Buffalo   K Rian Lindell $2.750 4
San Diego   K Nate Kaeding $1.868 1
Miami   K Dan Carpenter $1.670 2
Pittsburgh   K Sean Suisham $1.575 3

With Houston and the Jets smarting over serious salary cap concerns, it's understandable why Rackers and Folk weren't franchised. Rackers' check is going to Mario Williams' house this fall.

Hauschka will get a nice raise for 2012, but still won't make what he's worth.
Hauschka will get a nice raise for 2012, but still won't make what he's worth.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Both teams will look to save money bringing in an undrafted free agent and sign him for the rookie minimum of $375,000. Neither Rackers nor Folk had a good enough season to suggest doing otherwise. 

This is exactly what Seattle did last year when they brought Hauschka in just days before the Seahawks' Week 1 opener. Although Hauschka has played in the NFL for four seasons, he's only credited with three, making him a restricted free agent. The Seahawks can make him an offer in the $1 million range. If another team matches that, Seattle will be entitled to a draft pick. 

That's not to suggest that free-agent kickers will have it any better. The only other teams with kicking jobs open are Washington and Arizona; it's unlikely that either team will look to spend heartily at that position. Well, Washington might. They're ornery like that.  

But other teams clearly are. The value of a kicker seems to be keeping pace with other positions around the league. It may not be long before we're talking about a kicker getting $5 million per season. Do you think they're worth it? Or are guys like Hauschka getting jobbed by the system in place?