ESPM Presents: The Best & Worst NFL Kicker Contracts

Finally, you can settle all those bar bets about which teams pay their kickers too much! Matt Prater was the best kicker this season, with a Pro Football Focus grade of 63.5, but was he the best bargain? Read more to find out!

There are a couple of things to note about kickers. Thirty-six kickers played in 12 or more of their teams’ games this season, meaning they attempted field goals, or kickoffs, or both. Five of them are actually punters, at least technically, as they punt and kickoff, leaving five kickers in the league who contribute to their teams by kicking field goals. The five hybrids, who kick and punt, are not considered in this evaluation.

These numbers come from PFF and Spotrac.com, and concern only the regular season. The PFF grades control for quite a bit, measuring kickoff success and touchbacks, adjusting for field goal distance differences, etc., but they do not control for the thin air in Denver. Take Prater’s high marks with a grain of salt; he is still a good kicker though. A player’s contract quality is determined by the number of standard deviations their performance grade is above/below the average at their position, minus the number of standard deviations their average annual salary is above/below the average at their position.

The Top Five Kickers of the 2013 NFL Season (PFF Grade in parentheses)

  • 1. Matt Prater, DEN (63.5)
  • 2. Stephen Gostkowski, NE (46)
  • 3. Graham Gano, CAR (45)
  • 4. Dan Bailey, DAL (41.3)
  • 5. Steven Hauschka, SEA (33.8)

The Worst Five Kickers of the 2013 NFL Season

  • 27. David Akers, DET (6.9)
  • 28. Matt Bryant, ATL (6.8)
  • 29. Rian Lindell, TB (6.6)
  • 30. Kai Forbath, WAS (3)
  • 31. Shaun Suisham, PIT (1.7)

Pittsburgh is possibly the worst place to kick footballs, but again, Prater is probably better by some degree, if not 40 times better. Who gets paid the most?

Highest Five Average Kicker Salaries of the 2013 NFL Season (millions of $)

  • 1. Sebastian Janikowski, OAK ($3.775 million)
  • 2. Josh Scobee, JAC ($3.45m)
  • 3. Rob Bironas, TEN ($3.338m)
  • 4. Matt Prater, DEN ($3.25m)
  • 5. Dan Bailey, DAL ($3.214m)

Lowest Five Average Kicker Salaries of the 2013 NFL Season

  • 27. Greg Zuerlein, STL ($0.569m)
  • 28. Blair Walsh, MIN ($0.554m)
  • 29. Randy Bullock, HOU ($0.551m)
  • 30. Justin Tucker, BAL & Kai Forbath, WAS ($0.48m)

Apart from being good, there is a reason why teams like good young players: they come cheap on their first contract. How do they compare to the veterans, when evaluating which teams got the most leg for their buck? Remember,

Contract Quality = # SDs performance above/below average – # SDs salary above/below average

Five Best Kicker Contracts of the 2013 NFL Season (CQ in parentheses)

  • 1. Graham Gano, CAR (2.58)
  • 2. Justin Tucker, BAL (1.91)
  • 3. Greg Zuerlein, STL (1.76)
  • 4. Steven Hauschka, SEA (1.65)
  • 5. Matt Prater, DEN (1.63)

Congratulations to Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman! With the third-best on-field performance, and the 24th-lowest average salary, Graham Gano has been a steal.

Five Worst Kicker Contracts of the 2013 NFL Season

  • 27. Rob Bironas, TEN (-1.74)
  • 28. Adam Vinatieri, IND (-1.96)
  • 29. Matt Bryant, ATL (-2.06)
  • 30. Sebastian Janikowski, OAK (-2.13)
  • 31. Mason Crosby, GB (-2.14)

And it’s Crosby by a nose! Really a shame, because there is often a nice poetry when the most expensive paid player at a position just happens to be the most overpaid. Next time, Janikowski.

A final question: do kickers have it easy, or hard? They are NFL athletes without the wear and tear on their bodies. They do not work as much as other players (in terms of game time). Though forever lacking the stardom of quarterbacks, they are the only other scoring players of whom there is only one at their position, and likely more popular than a good many “regular” position players. And as Vinatieri showed us in three different Pats Super Bowls, they can take a lot of credit and become very popular with just a few good kicks. However, they suffer from few opportunities. A run of bad luck and a few consecutive missed kicks, the random error in a sample, can end their careers, as Garrett Hartley experienced this season. Their opportunities to show improvement are limited, kicking only 30-40 field goals a year, with maybe 80-100 kickoffs. Most other players see that many opportunities to make a play every game. And kickers know they usually determine the outcome of close, memorable games. They face a pressure exclusive to them. Oh, and occasionally they have to tackle speedy hot shots twice their size, or worse, they are blocked by eager special teamers three times their size.

Now that all the bar bets on overpaid and underpaid kickers are settled, move on to this one! Do kickers have it easy, or hard?

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