By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Entering this offseason, the kicker will be a big question for the Patriots for the second year in a row. Last time around, the question revolved around Stephen Gostkowski, and if his hip injury would be enough to end his career.
Fast forward to 2021, and the question is a bit more open-ended. There’s multiple paths the team can take, but they’re going to need to act quicker than they did last season.
Nick Folk is coming off of a career year, and should be the favorite for the job next season. Age ain’t nothing but a number for kickers, and the 36-year-old looks like he found his groove in 2020.
The flip side of Folk’s strong season is that he’ll likely be one of, if not the top kicker on the market when free agency begins. If the Patriots want him back, they probably won’t be able to wait until late August to sign him like they did last year.
If they decide to move on from Folk, there are two young, potentially high-ceiling options already in the building in Justin Rohrwasser and Roberto Aguayo.
Drafted in the fifth-round last year, Rohrwasser was erratic throughout training camp and spent the season on the practice squad. He struggled so much (hitting around 50-percent of his kicks) it’s hard to imagine such steep regression could occur naturally, as opposed to being caused by an injury.
Then there’s Aguayo, who had a similar rapid regression upon arriving in the NFL. Coming out of Florida State in 2016, he was considered by many the best kicking prospect of a generation. Drafted in the second round by Tampa, he finished his rookie year with the worst field goal percentage in the league among qualified kickers, then lost his job to Nick Folk in training camp the next year. He hasn’t kicked professionally since.
Despite the struggles early in their respective careers, it’s clear Rohrwasser and Aguayo both have tremendous natural talent. Getting them through whatever kind of yips they’ve had recently is easier said than done though.
On top of that, the Patriots likely can’t just wait for training camp to see if Rohrwasser and/or Aguayo have figured things out if they want a quality insurance plan behind them. By the time late July rolls around, Folk (and the remaining top free agent kickers) should already be signed.
If neither of the young guys can cut it, the Patriots would once again find themselves approaching the season without a sure plan at kicker. Sure, picking up Folk late turned out alright in 2020, but that was an exception, not the rule. It likely won’t work out that way again.
At the same time, bringing back Folk only to have him compete with either or both of the young guys during camp doesn’t seem feasible either. The way he kicked in 2020, likely command more than the $988,235 he made on that one-year contract. That should include some guaranteed money, which the team could have to eat against the cap if he’s released. Plus, assuming other teams are interested in his services, he could have a chance to go somewhere where the job is more guaranteed, instead of having to compete for it.
Of course, the Patriots could look externally as well, either dipping back into the draft or signing another free agent. In either case, there’s the risk of ending up back in the kicker carousel that so many NFL teams ride for years.
Folk feels like the obvious answer for New England. He’s proved he can be reliable, and was money at the end of games this season. But as the team prepares to go through a rebuild, albeit an expedited one, a long-term option like Rohrwasser or Aguayo could be more appealing. Whatever they end up doing, it’s just crucial they decide before late August this time.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.