For the past two weeks here at CBSSports.com, we've taken a look at every possible position group as the NFL gets ready to head into free agency next month. Well, except for one group, because we decided to save the best for last.
After looking at every position from quarterbacks to tight ends to defensive backs, we're closing our free agency series with a look at kickers and punters who will be available when the NFL signing period begins on March 14.
Now, talking about free agent kickers might not sound that exciting, but if you're a Chargers fan, you're definitely going to want to pay attention, because you guys definitely need a kicker. As a matter of fact, there's multiple teams who could benefit from adding a kicker this year, and if you're going to add one, 2018 is definitely the year to do it. We're staring at one of the best free-agent classes in recent memory.
Let's take a look at who is scheduled to be available when NFL free agency kicks off next month. (Keep in mind, there's a possibility that this list could change over the next four weeks if any available kicker decides to re-sign with his current team.)
Adam Vinatieri (Colts)
Matt Bryant (Falcons)
Sebastian Janikowski (Raiders)
Graham Gano (Panthers)
Caleb Sturgis (Eagles)
Ryan Succop (Titans)
Mike Nugent (Bears)
Chandler Catanzaro (Jets)
Cairo Santos (Bears)
Nick Novak (Chargers)
Kai Forbath (Vikings)
If any NFL team out is looking to make an upgrade at kicker -- ahem, Chargers and Seahawks -- this might be the year to do it. Not only is there an abundance of talented kickers, but there's an abundance of extremely old, talented kickers, who have proven year after year that they're able to regularly hit clutch field goals whenever they're called upon.
The free agency list starts with the NFL's oldest player: 45-year-old Adam Vinatieri.
Vinatieri has already said that he's going to play at least one more season, so the only question with him is whether or not he'll be with the Colts in 2018. Although Vinatieri has already said that he wants to stay in Indy, that doesn't necessarily mean the Colts will want to keep him. The Colts could decide to go younger (and cheaper) at the position by signing someone like Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis was on the Eagles' roster for both years that Frank Reich was in Philadelphia, so it wouldn't be a total shock to see Reich sign someone he's familiar with. Of course, Vinatieri is still on top of his game, even at 45, which might make it difficult for the Colts to move on from him.
One kicker who will definitely be testing the free agency waters is Sebastian Janikowski. The Raiders have already announced they're not going to re-sign him, which mean the Polish Rifle is set to become a free agent for the first time in his 18-year career.
Although he missed the 2017 season with a back injury, Janikowski should basically be able to sign wherever he wants, if he's healthy. One thing teams will want to keep an eye on is the fact that he struggled on long kicks in 2016, hitting just 3 of 8 field goals from beyond 50 yards.
One of the other big questions surrounding Janikowski is whether or not he'll be willing to take a pay cut. Janikowski's last contract with the Raiders made him the highest paid kicker in the NFL at the time. If he thinks he's going to get another contract making him the highest-paid kicker, well, that's just not going to happen, and that's mainly because 40-year-old players coming off a season-long injury just can't command that type of money. The 2000 first-round pick, who turns 40 on March 2, made $3 million in 2017 -- down from $4 million -- after agreeing to take a $1 million pay cut before the season. Janikowski will probably be able to command something near that in free agency.
The other kicker who will be over 40 when free agency begins next month is Matt Bryant. At 42, Bryant has been one of the top kickers in the NFL over the past few years, and the Falcons would be crazy to let him go. Bryant is hoping to pull a Vinatieri and play until he's 45, and ideally, he'd like to do that in Atlanta, but he seems to realize that it's not his choice.
"I'll play two [to] three more years in this league," Bryant told the team's official website in February. "There's obviously some curious times ahead to see where those two [to] three years happen. You know I'd like to finish it here with this organization. I guess I have a history here, so I'd like to finish it up here. But you don't know."
If the Falcons decide to let Bryant walk in free agency, his phone should be ringing off the hook come March 14. One thing to keep in mind though, is that both Bryant and Vinatieri have both spent the past few years playing indoors. At their age, both players would probably prefer to continue to play indoors, or at least in a warm-weathered climate. If both players reach free agency, signing with the Chargers, Vikings or Buccaneers could make some sense. The Bears, Giants and Seahawks could also make sense if they're willing to play in a cold-weathered city.
Speaking of the Seahawks, although they've already signed Jason Myers this offseason, they'll likely bring in some competition for the former Jaguars kicker after getting burnt by Blair Walsh in three different games last season. The 9-7 Seahawks could have possibly made the playoffs if Walsh had hit any big kicks at all in 2017.
Not only did Walsh miss a potential game-winner from 48 yards against Arizona in Week 17, but he also missed three attempts in a 17-14 loss to Washington in Week 9. Walsh also missed a potential game-tying 52-yard field goal in the final seconds of a 34-31 loss to the Falcons in Week 12. Of course, if the Seahawks had done any research on Walsh over the past two years, they would've known that his biggest weakness is hitting clutch field goals, so those three losses are kind of their fault because they're the ones who signed him.
Two other kickers to keep an eye on in free agency are Graham Gano and Ryan Succop. Although Gano struggled with extra points last season -- he missed three -- the Panthers kicker was money on field goals. Gano finished the 2017 season as the NFL's most accurate kicker by converting 29 of 30 attempts (96.7 percent). The one knock on Gano is that he's not great from over 50 yards. Gano's lone miss in 2017 came from 55 yards in Week 8. Also, since the start of the 2014 season, he's hit just 6 of 14 kicks (42.8 percent) from that range. However, he can hit a 60-yard field goal with a snowman as his holder, so there's that.
Who says you can’t build a snowman AND work on your craft? Snowman hold from 60 🙌. @Panthers @12thManXII pic.twitter.com/N3nhGVQXj5— Graham Gano (@GrahamGano) January 19, 2018
As for Succop, he was the NFL's fourth-most accurate kicker in 2016 and didn't have a big drop-off in 2017. The smart play for both the Panthers and Titans would probably be to just re-sign their kickers, but NFL teams always seem to get a little antsy when it comes to paying their kickers big money, which could hold up any potential deal. By the way, when we say "big money" with kickers, that refers to a deal that would be worth roughly somewhere between $3 million to $4.5 million per year.
Others: Cody Parkey (Dolphins), Patrick Murray (Buccaneers), Blair Walsh (Seahawks), Nick Folk (Buccaneers)
Shane Lechler (Texans)
Dustin Colquitt (Chiefs)
Kevin Huber (Bengals)
Pat O'Donnell (Bears)
Although it's starting to look like free agency could get crazy for placekickers this year, that's probably not going to happen with our class of free agent punters. Of the four starting punters who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2018, there's a good chance that three of them -- and probably all four -- will end up re-signing with their old team.
Even though he's 41, Lechler finished second in the NFL in punting average last season (49.0 yards per punt) and ranked fifth in the league with 32 punts that were downed inside the 20-yard line. Lechler has been one of the best punters in the NFL over the course of his career, and the Texans would be crazy to let him go. The seven-time Pro Bowler is from Texas, so staying in Houston at this point in his career probably makes the most sense for him.
The Bengals are in a similar situation with Kevin Huber. The 32-year-old went to high school and college in Cincinnati, so there's probably zero chance he would want to leave after spending his entire nine-year career with the Bengals. Basically, re-signing Huber makes sense for both sides.
As for Colquitt, it's almost guaranteed he'll end up back in Kansas City, as long as the two sides can find a price that works. In 2013, Colquitt signed a five-year, $18.75 million deal that made him the highest-paid punter in the league at the time. If Colquitt's trying to be the highest-paid punter again, he probably won't get the deal he wants, but it seems likely he'll be back with the Chiefs next season, where he's been since being selected by the team in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Under normal circumstances, O'Donnell would probably be a lock to re-sign with the Bears, but these aren't normal times in Chicago. The team just hired a new coach (Matt Nagy), who brought in his own special teams coordinator (Chris Tabor). As long as Tabor doesn't have his eye on someone else outside the organization to take O'Donnell's place, the 26-year-old punter will likely stick with the team that selected him in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
For more on free agency, just click the position group below to see who might be switching teams in 2018: