By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s official, the Patriots are in a kicker carousel. After having just two kickers between 1996 and 2019, the position is an offseason question for the second year in a row.
This time around it’s a little different. Last year, the Patriots were set on replacing long-time kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed most of 2019 with a serious hip injury. Despite a strong free agency class, the team elected to find their new kicker through the draft.
This was the logical choice at the time. The Patriots hadn’t missed on a rookie kicker for the previous two decades. They were also tight against the cap, and a late-round draft pick would be a more affordable option than a free agent. Bill Belichick ended up taking Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round.
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However, Rohrwasser struggled mightily once he got to New England. The Marshall product missed almost half his kicks early in camp, before reportedly suffering an undisclosed injury. In late-August, the team added Nick Folk, who had filled in as a replacement when Gostkowski got hurt in 2019. He won the job and went on to miss just two field goals the entire season.
Given the season he just had, and the scarcity of competent kickers in the NFL, it’s unlikely Folk will be available under similar circumstances in 2021. He’ll likely be picked up well before August, and sign a deal worth more than the $988K he made in New England in 2020. If the Patriots want him back, they’ll likely have to commit to him earlier and give him a raise.
The question is will that be the Patriots’ plan? Folk will turn 37 next season, and although he was successful in 2020 isn’t exactly a long-term option. They do have a pair of younger kickers signed to future deals in Rohrwasser and Roberto Aguayo, but those are two of the most erratic kickers taken in the last five years.
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On top of that, it’s not a particularly strong free agent class outside of Folk. Ryan Succop is the only option on par with Folk, and he’ll be 35 in September. He doesn’t really add anything that Folk doesn’t.
Unlike their kicker pursuit in 2020, this time around the Patriots have plenty of cap space, and are looking at both a weak free agency class and draft class. Unless they want to take a risk, paying Folk feels like the only option for 2021.
That strategy understandably still leaves questions about the future. But with another training camp – and maybe preseason games – coming this summer, the team will have ample time to evaluate Rorhwasser and Aguayo for 2022. If neither is up to the task, they can dip back into the draft. Until then though, they won’t find a better bridge than Folk.
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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.