When Forbes released information on its wealthiest teams in the NFL at the start of the 2013 season, the Oakland Raiders were listed as the second least valuable team in the league. At $825 million, the Raiders are one of only nine teams in the NFL that has a net value of less than a billion dollars. That’s close to a third of the $2.3 billion value of the league-leading Dallas Cowboys.
What’s unusual about this fact is that despite being dead last in spending on their offense and defense coming into this season, the Raiders have the highest-paid kicker in the entire NFL. Sebastian Janikowski currently makes $3.5 million a year. This is a million dollars more than the Denver Broncos’ Matt Prater and the New England Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski, the two next highest-paid kickers in the league. It’s also more than seven times the $465,000 that Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey is making.
Janikowski’s salary is also higher than the salaries of a number of other high-profile players in the NFL. Oakland’s own starting quarterback Matt Flynn is earning $740,000 a year while Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo gets $1.39 million. Also, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is earning $950,000 a year and Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton only gets $1 million per year. In fact, on Oakland’s entire roster, only Darren McFadden makes more money than Janikowski, pulling down just over $5.8 million. Janikowski’s high salary is an unusual feature of the Raiders offense, but much of this can be attributed to his high level of importance to the team.
Sebastian Janikowski was born in Walbryzych, Poland in 1978. He excelled at soccer at a young age and even made Poland’s national U-17 team. After he moved to the United States following his father’s marriage to an American citizen, he played soccer in high school in Daytona Beach, Florida. He first got involved in American Football when he was recruited by his school’s team to be a kicker. His skills with both accuracy and length helped him to be recruited by Florida State University.
Janikowski was picked 17th overall by the Raiders in the 2000 NFL Draft, making him only the third kicker in NFL history to be drafted in the first round. Nicknamed The Polish Canon because of his leg strength, he has held the team’s placekicker position ever since.
Over the years, Janikowski became the NFL’s highest-paid kicker thanks greatly to his reliability. He has had a field goal percentage of 85% or greater in five seasons and has been in the top ten for accuracy in six seasons. Janikowski has gotten at least twenty field goals in all but one year of his career. His best season came in 2012 when he went 31-34 in field goals, as he made every attempt that was less than 50 yards long that year.
In addition, Janikowski has made his way into the record books on several occasions. He shares the record for longest field goal in NFL history at 63-yards with three other players and he came very close to breaking that record in 2007. He also holds NFL records for having completed four field goals in a quarter, making three field goals of 50 yards or more in a game and (unofficially) for attempting the longest field goal in NFL history at 76-yards.
Janikowski’s leg has made him worth big money as an NFL player. In 2010, the Raiders agreed to a four-year, $16 million contract that would make him the highest-paid kicker in NFL history.
In 2011 and 2012, Janikowski made an astounding $112,900 per field goal. Eclipsing the similarly outrageous $98,000 per field goal he made in 2010. Meanwhile, Cowboy Dan Bailey made a measly $14,600 per field goal in 2012.
But why would the second-poorest team in the NFL have such a highly-paid kicker? To answer that question we must understand that the Raiders have struggled over the years with trying to keep a strong offense going. Oakland has not reached the playoffs since 2002 after they lost Super Bowl XXXVII and has found itself at the bottom of the league in offensive yards five times since then.
After Rich Gannon’s retirement in 2005, the Raiders have had a revolving door of quarterbacks including Kerry Collins, JaMarcus Russell, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer and Terrelle Pryor. None of them were able to achieve consistent success igniting their offense. In fact, in 2009 the Raiders had just seventeen offensive touchdowns versus eighteen interceptions.
Oakland’s misery scoring touchdowns is what prompts Janikowski to work harder than most other NFL kickers to make field goals. In 2009 he had 95 of the Raiders’ 197 points. Even in better times he’s been an important offensive factor. In 2010, he got 142 of the team’s 410 points. While it’s clear that Janikowski cannot solve all of Oakland’s offensive woes, his sheer power and accuracy have made for one of the most unique relationships in pro football and one that Raider Nation will be loath to part with any time soon.