By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Projecting the Patriots need at kicker may be the most difficult of any position, simply because there is a massive variable we have no way of knowing.
Following a shaky start to his season, Stephen Gostkowski underwent hip surgery and was placed on IR. He hasn’t publicly kicked since. At 36 years old, will he be able to find his reliable form in time for the 2020 season, or do the Patriots need to look elsewhere? Only the team has seen him in action since the surgery, so there’s no way to know which way they’ll lean.
The Patriots used a trio of kickers to fill Gostkowski’s role for the final three months of last season, all of whom are now free agents. Nick Folk seemed to find success in his seven games in a Patriots uniform, hitting all eight of his kicks from inside 40 yards, as well as going 12-for-12 on extra points. At 35 years old he’s hardly a long term option, but the Patriots know what they are getting.
Kai Forbath should draw some interest, but he has struggled kicking in inclement weather, while Mike Nugent struggled mighty and it’s unlikely he’ll be kicking anywhere in the NFL next year.
If the Patriots truly go external, there isn’t exactly a robust market at the position this spring. Greg Zuerlein is the top option available, but its unlikely he Rams would let one of the best kickers in the league walk, and perhaps equally unlikely that the Patriots would shell out the $5 million a year it would take to get him.
Among the rest of the options, only two kickers attempted at least 20 field goals with a success rate over 85 percent. One is Dan Bailey, who has had a reputation as one of the more reliable kickers in the league since debuting with the Cowboys in 2011, but has spent his entire career kicking indoors, something the Patriots proved to be weary of during last year’s kicker search.
The other, Zane Gonzalez, has some outdoor experience, and at 24 years old could prove to be a long-term option. He struggled his first three years in the league but had a breakout season with the Cardinals in 2019, finishing fourth in the league in points (127). Chase McLaughlin of the Colts and Daniel Carlson of the Raiders represent similar potential long-term solutions.
Of course, there is always Adam Vinatieri, who plans to keep kicking at the age of 47. While he clearly struggled for most of last year before being put on IR and undergoing knee surgery. The Patriots should be able to find a better option, and would likely be better off just rolling with Gostkowski if it came down to the two, but seeing Vinatieri back in New England would be a heck of a reunion story.
Perhaps the Patriots would get creative and go with a player from another league. Taylor Russolino booted multiple 50-plus yard kicks for the St. Louis Battlehawks in the XFL this spring. Going from a D-III school to numerous semi-pro leagues to the XFL, there may be questions about how he handles big situations at the next level, but he’s proven he has an NFL leg. Austin MacGinnis and Matt McCrane are two other XFL names to keep an eye on. MacGinnis led the league in field goals, while McCrane does have some NFL experience under his belt.
Obviously, this is all hinging on whether or not Stephen Gostkowski can return, and if he can’t, if the Patriots decide to pass on one of the better kicker draft classes in recent memory. Plus we all know how kickers are, so no matter who they chose, it’s likely we’re right back here next year.