National Football League placekickers sometimes face as much stress as do starting quarterbacks. A missed field goal can, depending on where the ball is spotted following the kick, present opposing teams with opportunities to put points on the scoreboard. An attempt that is botched on a big stage, such as one that occurs in the playoffs or on a Super Bowl night, can mean the end of a career for a kicker.
None of that accounts for the injury and embarrassment factors that arise when kickers are expected to make touchdown-saving tackles.
Reliable kickers, on the other hand, must not be taken for granted. They shorten the field for their offenses, and they deliver when an entire stadium is watching them line up for game-tying and/or game-winning attempts.
These are the 10 highest-paid NFL placekickers for the 2014 season.
10. Adam Vinatieri — Indianapolis Colts: $2.25 million cap hit
Vinatieri has been in the NFL for so long that there is a younger generation of pro football fans who don’t remember the kicker ever featuring for the New England Patriots. The veteran who will be 42 years old at the end of the upcoming campaign has done it all in the pros. He has been an elite regular season kicker, having won conference championship games and Super Bowl titles with his leg.
He also isn’t done yet.
Only two kickers converted more field goals in 2013 than did Vinatieri. He buried 35 of 40 field goal attempts, and he was a perfect 34-34 on extra points. His leg strength was still there last fall, as he hit on four of six attempts from 50+ out.
9. Robbie Gould — Chicago Bears: $2.6 million cap hit
Kicking in the Windy City is no easy task. Gusts that last for minutes – not seconds – take what would be, in other stadiums, cookie-cutter field goal attempts and push them well wide of the goalposts.
Gould picked up some experience kicking in unpleasant conditions while attending Penn State, and he has found a true home as a member of the Bears.
The 32-year-old is currently the third most accurate kicker in NFL history. Gould is less than half of a percentage point away from the top of the list. That statistic is even more impressive when you remember that he kicks in Chicago in no fewer than eight games each season.
8. Ryan Succop — Kansas City Chiefs: $2,708,750 cap hit
The final selection of the 2009 NFL Draft has had a rough past couple of years. Succop missed six field goal attempts apiece in 2012 and 2013. He then made enemies in Pittsburgh this past December when his shank versus the San Diego Chargers allowed the Chargers to rally back and win in overtime, a result that prevented the Steelers from backing into the postseason.
Succop’s 2014 summer has not been much kinder to the kicker. A groin injury has kept him sidelined, and that problem has also opened the door for rookie Cairo Santos. Succop could find himself out of a job come September.
7. Sebastian Janikowski — Oakland Raiders: $3.06 million cap hit
Janikowski put pen to paper on a contract extension last August that earned him a guaranteed $8 million. That deal, should he and the Raiders keep it intact up through its conclusion, will keep Janikowski with the Raiders up through the conclusion of the 2017 regular season.
Not so fast.
Janikowski had a lousy 2013 season, converting just 21 of 30 field goal attempts. That 70 percent conversion rate is a career low. Janikowski’s dead money value drops to nearly $1 million for the 2015 season. Oakland could, if Janikowski has another lackluster year, choose to cut the 36-year-old next offseason.
6. Matt Bryant — Atlanta Falcons: $3.3125 million cap hit
Bryant is, at this stage of his career, a reliable kicker who makes few mistakes when lining up for three points. Granted, he is fortunate enough to kick while inside of domes for over half of his regular season contests as a member of the Falcons. That said, a conversion rate of around 88-90 percent is nothing to sneeze at.
Bryant is set to be out of contract at the end of the 2014 regular season. While he would be due millions of dollars next winter because of his veteran status, the Falcons could do worse than giving Bryant another year or two. That could change, of course, if Bryant fails to impress this fall.
5. Mason Crosby — Green Bay Packers: $3.4 million cap hit
What a difference a year can make.
Crosby was a disaster in 2012. He missed over a third of his field goal attempts (12 of 33), and he was reportedly so lost that the Packers were considering cutting Crosby last summer.
Then came 2013. Crosby buried 33 field goals, and he converted 89.2 percent of his attempts (33-37). Both of those figures are career highs for the 29-year-old.
Crosby has two more years left on his current deal. The Packers will want to see more consistency from their kicker before they offer Crosby any sort of extension, and this year is a good time for him to show the team just that.
4. Nick Folk — New York Jets: $3.6 million cap hit
There is plenty to worry about regarding Gang Green this summer. The Jets are in the midst of yet another quarterback controversy, this one involving an unproven second-year man in Geno Smith versus a Michael Vick who is far past his prime. New York’s secondary has looked to be somewhere between average and awful in the preseason.
Folk is not part of the team’s problems. He converted 33 of 36 field goals in his fourth season with the Jets last year. New York gave Folk a multi-year extension this past March that could keep 29-year-old with the club for another four seasons.
3. Stephen Gostkowski — New England Patriots: $3.8 million cap hit
There are times when it seems as if the Patriots can do little wrong. The franchise found a Hall of Fame quarterback at the 199th pick in a draft. New England had the previously mentioned Vinatieri, who twice booted game-winning field goals in Super Bowl contests, on the roster.
When Vinatieri signed with rivals the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, the Patriots gave his former gig to Stephen Gostkowski.
The numbers indicate that Gostkowski has actually been better than Vinatieri. Gostkowski is sixth all-time on the NFL’s most-accurate list. At 30 years old, Gostkowski should have plenty of great seasons left in the tank.
2. Matt Prater — Denver Broncos: $3.8125 million cap hit
When you are the kicker on the team that showcased an offense for the ages, you’re going to have plenty of chances to accumulate points. Prater was a perfect 75 for 75 when kicking extra points last season. Mike Nugent of the Cincinnati Bengals was second in the league in extra point attempts in 2013.
He hit on 52 of 53 extra points.
Prater only received 26 opportunities to flash his leg on field goal attempts last season due to quarterback Peyton Manning and company finding the end zone so often in games. Denver’s kicker led the league in field goal percentage in 2013 (96.2), hitting on 25 of 26 attempts.
1. Josh Scobee — Jacksonville Jaguars: $4.1875 million cap hit
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a mess for years. They were responsible for one of the worst overall defenses in the NFL in 2013. Only one team had a worst rushing attack in 2013 than did Jacksonville. Those in charge of the franchise are hoping that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles will be a savior who is able to win in the pros sooner than later.
Jacksonville can at least count on the team’s kicker. Josh Scobee has quietly emerged as one of the best in the business over the past few years. He hit on 71 of 78 field goal attempts from 2011 through 2013.