[UPDATE 10/03/2019; 10:16 am ET] The Patriots are expected to sign Mike Nugent. For more details, please click here.
Since 2010, the New England Patriots had only one man attempt field goals and extra points for them: four-time Pro Bowler Stephen Gostkowski, who originally joined the team as a fourth-round draft pick in 2006 and has since appeared in 232 of a possible 241 regular season and playoff games. Now, however, the Patriots will need to replace this model of stability after having moved the veteran from their active roster to the injured reserve list.
The search for a replacement is already underway, and here is what we know so far.
New England brought five free agents in for tryouts
The Patriots acted swiftly upon knowing that they would move Gostkowski to IR and brought five kickers in for tryouts on Wednesday (a sixth, Kaare Vedvik, reportedly declined an invite because he wants to focus on working as a punter and kickoff specialist). Let’s take a closer look at the men brought in:
Kai Forbath: The 32-year-old has spent time with six different teams over the course of his career, but started the 2019 season unsigned after getting released by the Jacksonville Jaguars in February. Forbath appeared in three games for the team last season, making four of five field goal attempts as well as all three of his extra points. His last full season — 2017, which he spent with the Minnesota Vikings — saw him hit 84.2% (32 of 38) on field goals and 87.2% (34 of 39) on PATs.
Elliott Fry: An undrafted free agent out of South Carolina in 2017, Fry has yet to attempt a place kick during an NFL game. He did see some preseason action earlier this year, though, and made three of his four field goal attempts. He also went 14-of-14 in the AAF before it folded — the league did not have extra points — and was successful on 13 of his 17 (76.5%) field goal attempts as well as all 31 of his point-after tries during his final collegiate season.
Mike Nugent: The 15-year veteran, who was with eight teams over the course of his career, brings considerable experience to the table. Recently, however, he has only seen irregular action and has not held a full-time kicker job since the 2016 season. Since then, Nugent has appeared in only 11 games and has made 17 of 19 (89.5%) field goal attempts as well as 19 of his 22 extra points (86.4%) — none of which coming in 2019.
Blair Walsh: Infamous in Minnesota for missing a potential game-winner in the 2015 playoffs from 27 yards out, Walsh actually has had some decent moments early on in his career — one that started with a first-team All-Pro nomination in 2012. Recently, however, the 29-year-old has failed to find work: he was out of football in 2018 and only saw preseason action with the Atlanta Falcons this year. Walsh made one of two field goal attempts before his release.
Matthew Wright: After going undrafted earlier this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked the 23-year-old up and he went on to see some action during the preseason: the rookie attempted six field goals, five of which successful, before his release. In his last season at Central Florida, Wright was able to make 12 of 14 field goal tries (85.7%) as well as all 74 of his extra point attempts.
The Patriots may continue workouts on Thursday
While the Patriots had plenty of kickers in already on Wednesday, they did not yet make a decision to sign one of them. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the team may even bring in more players to take a look at on Thursday. Thoroughly analyzing what is available on the open market instead of rushing to a decision is certainly the right thing to do for New England at this point in time considering that it is still early in the regular season.
The goal, obviously, has to be to find somebody who can work well long-term — like Shayne Graham, who replaced Gostkowski during the 2010 season mentioned above: coming in halfway through the year, Graham made all 14 of his field goal attempts over a nine-game span as well as 35 of 37 extra point tries. Getting a similar level of consistency from a free agent would obviously be big for the Patriots.
A season-long replacement will be needed
As was reported yesterday, the Patriots will need to find somebody to replace Gostkowski not just for the eight games before he can be activated off injured reserve again. After all, the 35-year-old is scheduled to undergo surgery on his hip and while he should be ready to return in 2020 again, the procedure will keep him out for the rest of the 2019 season. Whoever comes in will be a longer-term replacement.
Gostkowski’s duties could be split up moving forward
Gostkowski did not just serve as the Patriots’ place kicker, he also performed kickoffs and generally did a good job at it: he kicked off 26 times so far this season, with 21 of them ending in touchbacks. The five remaining kicks were brought out an average of 30.6 yards — the fifth worst number in the NFL, yes, but more reflective of New England’s coverage than Gostkowski’s placement as a kickoff specialist.
With him no longer part of the equation, the Patriots could turn to whichever kicker they will sign. Of course, they could also try splitting up his duties: the new kicker could focus on field goals and extra point attempts, with punter Jake Bailey filling Gostkowski’s role on kickoffs. Bailey, who is in the middle of a very good rookie season in New England, is no stranger when it comes to doing that — at least at the collegiate level.
During the 2018 season, his final at Stanford before entering the NFL, Bailey kicked off 72 times with 60 of the kicks resulting in touchbacks. When the ball was returned, the Cardinal’s opponents gained an average of 33.2 yards — not exactly an outstanding number, but no reason for concern either as the coverage units also have to take part of the blame. Bailey’s only real blemish might therefore be that two kicks went out of bounds.