When looking at the New England Patriots’ free agency so far and how it impacted the club’s roster, one is urged to say that the team still has plenty of needs left to address. The wide receiver position saw no high-caliber additions. Tight end could still use some upgrades even after the signing of Matt LaCosse. The defensive line lost three players at this time that played considerable snaps in 2018.
While all those points are valid to a certain degree, in reality the reigning world champions have only one true hole on their roster at the moment: kicker. After re-signing Ryan Allen to a one-year contract yesterday and thus addressing the uncertainty at the punter position, the club is still left without a placekicker — Stephen Gostkowski, who held the role since 2006, remains on the open market.
Gostkowski hit free agency after the Patriots decided against using the franchise tag on him for the second time after 2015. He is also coming off a mostly solid campaign: during the 2018 season, he made 84.2% of all his field goal attempts as well as 98.3% of extra points tries. While he did rank only 19th on field goal percentage during the regular season, his point-after success and his abilities on kickoffs cannot be denied.
That being said, Gostkowski again had a miss in a high-pressure situation when he shanked the first of his three field goal attempts during the Patriots’ 13-3 Super Bowl win over the Los Angeles Rams. The kick did not matter in the grand scheme of things, but it still turned Super Bowl 53 into the third straight title game that saw Gostkowski miss either a field goal or extra point try — prompting Bill Belichick to consider going for a 4th and 1 late in the game instead of trying an ultimately successful 41-yard attempt.
This does certainly not bode well for the 35-year-old and his unexpected long stint as a free agent adds further intrigue to the whole story. Could the Patriots really consider moving on from Gostkowski? And more importantly, are the alternatives really much better? Of free agents available, only one — former Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant — had a better field goal percentage than the long-time Patriot. Bryant, however, turns 44 in two months.
Bringing a rookie into the fold would also be a bit of a gamble: kickers entering the league since 2015 — when extra point attempts were moved back and Gostkowski signed his last d deal — have a lower success rate on both field goals (83.9% vs 88.6%) and extra point attempts (94.1% vs 97.0%) than the three-time world champion. One way or another, however, the club will need address this lone remaining hole.
So what could the Patriots’ plan be? Ultimately, it would not be a surprise to see Gostkowski return to New England for a lack of alternatives at the moment. However, it would not be a surprise if the club opted to bring in a rookie — someone like Utah’s Matt Gay, who made 56 of his 65 field goal attempts since joining Utah in 2017 and has experience on kickoffs — to serve as competition and potentially a replacement.
The Patriots did the same at the punter position last year: the team signed undrafted free agent Corey Bojorquez to challenge Ryan Allen. Ultimately, the incumbent won the battle for the punter spot and delivered a solid season culminating in an outstanding Super Bowl performance. New England trying something similar this offseason at kicker would not be a surprise at all — if Gostkowski is even retained that is.