2006 was an important year in Patriots history; it marked the end of an era, 10 long years of service over. It was when New England moved on from kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Vinatieri had his foot out the door after 2004, a Logan Mankins-esque dispute about respect. The Patriots all time leading scorer wanted a long term contract. New England hit him with the franchise tag. That essentially ended any chance of a future relationship.
There are two sides to the story. The Patriots thought they were offering a fair value. Vinatieri's camp wanted him to be paid like the number one kicker in the league. Ultimately, the Patriots decided to move on and draft kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
There is no way for Gostkowski to fill the shoes left by Vinatieri; the latter has too many historical moments for the franchise to overcome. Vinatieri currently ranks as the #1 all time leading scorer for both the Patriots and the Colts. Gostkowski needs to score 18 points to pass Vinatieri and lead the franchise- likely the work of multiple weeks.
So with the upcoming changing of the Patriots guard, let's compare the output (including the playoffs) of these two franchise greats.
Through Vinatieri's first nine seasons, he was already destined for greatness. He had helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls and his 1,114 points were the most ever in NFL history through a player's first nine seasons. He was the Patriots all-time leading scoring, surpassing Gino Cappelletti.
His 327 field goal attempts and 267 conversions were the third most and the most ever, respectively, by a kicker through nine seasons. His 367 extra point attempts ranked the 5th most all time. Vinatieri made two Pro Bowls and All Pro teams (2002 and 2004), although he hasn't made either team since leaving the Patriots.
Gostkowski burst on the scene and made some great strides. His 1,195 points passed Vinatieri for the most through nine seasons. His 471 extra point attempts are the most all time (and the only one he missed was his rookie season; his 99.8% rate is the third best of kickers with 200+ attempts). He's made two Pro Bowls and one All Pro team.
Most importantly, his 86.9% field goal completion rate is the best all time.
Vinatieri's numbers have greatly inflated from playing in the Indianapolis dome (he's hit 85.8% of his kicks since joining the Colts), but they still trail Gostkowski's production- and that's not including his value on kickoffs.
There's no question that Vinatieri is an all time great who will likely be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. But Gostkowski ranks amongst the best kickers in football history. Perhaps he'll get a chance to make his own signature plays down the road. But for now, the Patriots couldn't have asked for a better replacement.