The Flight of the Kicker | Stephen Gostkowski

“You only had one job!”

This was the chant echoing across Mercedes-Benz Stadium during Super Bowl 53, as the 46-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski flew through the air, just missing the uprights. A pointed scowl crawled across the kicker’s face but soon vanished as he trotted back to the sidelines. No one seemed dejected on the New England Patriots’ bench. In fact, everyone within sight of the kicker simply patted him on the back or nodded. They knew this blunder was over and done with early enough in the game.

As the game continued, Gostkowski had the opportunity to rectify the earlier situation. With just under 10:30 left in the first half, he lined up and drilled a 42-yard field goal to give the Patriots the 3-0 lead. An extra point after a touchdown plus a final field goal sealed the game. The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl 53 and Gostkowski would score seven of the thirteen points that night. As the season came to a close, many fans wondered if this would be his last game.

Free agency has been a hot code word as the year rolls on. Stephen Gostkowski is among a handful of players that may have played their last game with the organization. However, there is one thing that favors keeping the kicker. Coach Bill Belichick is not one to easily dismiss his special teams players. Stability is a focal point when it comes to the New England Patriots. Since 2000, there have only been two starting kickers on the roster. Adam Vinatieri, who played in New England from 1996 to 2005, and Gostkowski, who has been kicking since 2006.

Given his longevity, it seems that the right decision would be to continue to rely on the kicker. He leads the team in scoring points and has been reliable for a majority of his career. During the 2018 regular season, he made 85 percent of his kicks, missing only five field goals and one extra point. This accuracy carried over into the postseason when he made five of the six field goals that were kicked and all 10 extra points he attempted.

So, as the man responsible for 1,743 points scored since 2006, will the Patriots honor their kicker and re-sign him for the 2019 season?

Kicking in Free Agency

As the head coach, Bill Belichick will take this offseason to evaluate the value of Gostkowski to the team. It is always imperative that the accuracy of the kicking and the punting units is on par with the team’s goals. There are a handful of players this season who are peering into their final stages with New England. Over the last twelve seasons, Gostkowski has been ‘Mr. Reliable.’  His continuity has been one of the main reasons the Patriots have remained relevant over the years.

Due to the nature of the kicking position, the 35-year-old is not at risk for retirement. There are 19 kickers who enter the 2019 season as free agents. Stephen Gostkowski does sit near the top as one of the older kickers on the list. Should the Patriots decide to keep their field goal and extra points on the leg of Gostkowski, the flight of the kicker will remain for at least one more season. There are a handful of younger kickers that may provide longevity in the Patriots organization. However, reliability is the key component for this team. They may decide to work out some of the younger kickers to view their compatibility with the special teams unit. This would be an opportunity to select a new punter, too, as punter Ryan Allen is another special-teamer who is an impending free agent.

One glaring point that may go against the Patriots keeping their longtime kicker is his price tag. It has been reported that the team has between $20 million and $25 million in cap space. Because Gostkowski is the highest-paid kicker entering free agency, Belichick may decide to let him walk. This ties back into the belief that mentoring a younger special teams unit will assist New England over the long run.

Although it has only been a couple of weeks since the Patriots won Super Bowl 53, there is clearly a lot of decision making that will occur this offseason.

If the Super Bowl was Gostkowski’s last game in New England, there is much to be grateful for as a fan. His dedication to the game as well as his effectiveness over the course of his career is applauded. To fill the shoes of Adam Vinatieri after he left New England is one thing; surpassing Vinatieri as one of the greatest kickers to play for the Patriots is another.

Every moment that the team allowed the confidence of the veteran to win games showed the trust that Belichick had with Gostkowski. The 2018 season has dwindled away, but the legacy of Stephen Gostkowski will forever fly with New England.

Regardless of how the transactions occur this offseason, coaches, fans and players alike will be in awe of the true spirit of their kicker.

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