Nov 4, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas (2) kicks a field goal against the Chicago Bears during the first half at LP Field. Chicago defeated Tennessee 51-20. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Just days before Rob Bironas was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, the Tennessee Titans reached a two-year agreement with their longtime kicker. The contract was reportedly worth $6.675 million. It makes him the NFL’s fourth-highest paid kicker.
Did Bironas deserve that money? Statistically, Bironas had one of his worst seasons during the 2012-13 season. He made 25 of his 31 field-goal attempts. That was his lowest success rate since he converted 78.6 percent of his attempts during the 2006-07 season.
It’s easy to look at those numbers and believe that Bironas is trending downward. What one mustn’t forget is that some of those misses came after he injured his ankle early in the season. All six of his misses came from beyond 40 yards.
Rob Bironas was a good kicker. He still is a good kicker. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t younger, cheaper kickers who could’ve done the job.
Let’s consider three of the teams who offered their kicking gigs to rookies. Minnesota Vikings (Blair Walsh), St. Louis Rams (Greg Zuerlein) and Baltimore Ravens (Justin Tucker) each put the fate of their kicking games on unproven assets. While they were much cheaper, there was no telling how they’d respond to kicking with a new ball, league and environment.
Each of these players had their share of game-winning kicks. While Zuerlein converted 23-of-31 kicks (74.2 percent), six of his donkeys came from 50-plus yards. Walsh converted 35-of-38 kicks. That included a Week 17 game-winner that catapulted the Vikings into the playoffs. Tucker converted 30-of-33 kicks. He also nailed a game-winner in the AFC Divisional playoffs.
One fear with veteran kickers is that they’ll lose their confidence at any moment. An example of that is Green Bay Packers’ Mason Crosby. Some teams prefer to use the “dime-a-dozen” mentality: ride a kicker while he’s hot. When that kicker gets cold, management will sign someone like Billy Cundiff or Kai Forbath. They’ll use that extra money toward players who play more than kickers.
Typically, those are the teams who lose one additional game per season because they used such a juvenile strategy. That one game could cost a team home-field advantage, a playoff berth, or even jobs.
Spending multimillions on a kicker doesn’t give a team the best bang for their buck. It does give them someone with a proven track record. For the Titans, it allows them to concentrate more on whoever they’re pursuing in free agency. Titans enthusiasts know all-too-well what happens when nuisances get in the way of the big vision.
And no, MoonPie: please don’t scare away Andy Levitre, Louis Vasquez, Michael Bennett or any other free agents this year.