The New England Patriots have a decision on the horizon with kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He is currently playing the 2015 season under the franchise tag, which means that the Patriots all time leading scorer will be a free agent at the end of the year. New England has until 4 PM on July 15th to come to terms for an extension, or else they won't be able to negotiate with Gostkowski until after the season.
The 31-year-old kicker will be a part of a massive free agent kicker class, alongside Adam Vinatieri, Josh Scobee, Justin Tucker, Greg Zuerlein, Blair Walsh, and Mason Crosby. The 25-year-old Tucker of the Ravens might be the crown jewel of the group, but Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the history of the NFL.
There are a few reasons why the Patriots should want to extend Gostkowski.
1) Per Miguel of Patscap, Gostkowski's cap hit of $4.59 million is the second highest for a kicker of all time.
2) The only year a Patriots kicker received a greater share of the team's cap space was in Adam Vinatieri's final season.
3) Giving Gostkowski the franchise tag in 2016 would force a 20% increase in salary to $5.33 million, which is just crazy.
4) The Patriots could work out a long term contract that would make Gostkowski the highest paid kicker in the league, while still reducing his cap hit for the upcoming season.
5) Gostkowski's 78 regular season field goal attempts over the past two years lead the league, and his 93.6% conversion rate also leads the league. He's 100% on extra points. He became the first kicker in NFL history to prevent the opposing team from returning a single kick off in the Super Bowl. He's the best kicker in the league.
At 31 years of age, the Patriots might be concerned about the long term viability of their kicker. Bill Belichick and company let Vinatieri walk after the Super Bowl hero turned 33- and Vinatieri is still kicking and actually posted the 3rd best field goal rate over the past two seasons at the ages of 41 and 42, including snatching the All Pro nod this past year.
Some might point to the year-over-year correlation of field goal conversion rate (it's 0.06 over the past decade, which implies near total randomness) as reason to let Gostkowski walk, with the implication that anyone signed off the street could be just as successful. It's important to note that this correlation doesn't account for field goal distance, and the sample sizes are relatively small so there is plenty of noise in the data.
Instead, there's actual data that shows that a kicker's ability doesn't really change from year to year, even if they might miss a couple more kicks. That's just how probabilities work. A kicker might make 80% of their 45 yard field goals over the long run, but individual seasons might yield 100% or 50% conversion rates. Good kickers are good kickers. Gostkowski is the best one in the league.
The Patriots would be smart to be proactive and extend Gostkowski prior to the new contracts of Tucker and Zuerlein. The top kickers in the league are currently receiving $3.25-$3.75 million per season, with 30%-50% of the contract guaranteed.
At Gostkowski's age, a four year extension (so a five year deal including this upcoming franchise tag season) would make sense and bring the kicker to 35 years old. A contract averaging $3.50 million per season, with 40% guaranteed would both be fair for both parties. Both sides have until July 15th to come to a new contract extension- and it would be in the best interest of everyone involved.