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2020 NFL free agency: What releasing kicker Stephen Gostkowski means for the Patriots

Related: Report: Patriots releasing all-time scoring leader Stephen Gostkowski

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots announced on Monday that they have parted ways with place kicker Stephen Gostkowski. While the move did not come as too big a surprise — he ended the 2019 season on injured reserve, was coming off an inconsistent stretch of play, and had a cap hit of almost $5 million — it did signal the end of an era: Gostkowski had been with the team since 2006 and became one of the most successful kickers in NFL history during his 14 years in New England.

Now, however, the club will move forward with out him. Let’s therefore quickly break down what this means.

New England will need a new place kicker...

Well, d’uh, Captain Obvious! Yes, it is true, with Gostkowski no longer part of the equation, the Patriots will indeed need to find somebody to replace him. Both free agency and the draft offer some talent to fill in for the organization’s all-time leading scorer, however, even though Gostkowski’s mix of big-game experience and past productivity will not (instantly) be matched. Still, New England does have options when it comes to replacing the 36-year-old.

The open market offers the following players, among others:

Nick Folk, Josh Gable, Greg Joseph, Austin MacGinnis, Mike Nugent, Austin Rehkow, Taylor Russolino, Ryan Succop, Giorgio Tavecchio, Adam Vinatieri, Greg Zuerlein

The list of free agent kickers includes a future Hall of Famer, some of the best kickers in the XFL, and a trick-shot artist that once made an 80-yard field goal. The most intriguing name, however, might still be Nick Folk. The 35-year-old was the third and final replacement for Gostkowski in 2019 and looked good in his eight games with the Patriots, making 14 of 17 field goal attempts and all 12 of his extra point tries. If the team wants to go to the open market, Folk certainly makes the most sense.

Of course, the Patriots could also take to the draft to find a long-term fix at the kicker position:

Dylan Barnas (Central Florida), Tyler Bass (Georgia Southern), Rodrigo Blankenship (Georgia), Dominik Eberle (Utah State), Sam Sloman (Miami OH), Jonathan Song (Texas Christian), Jet Toner (Stanford)

The draft does offer some solid talent, with Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship as the consensus top option available and Jet Toner and Tyler Bass also having some solid moments during their college careers. New England will likely need to invest a mid-round draft pick in order to get Blankenship on board, while the others might still be around in free agency. All in all, though, the Patriots are certainly in the market to select a place kicker in late April.

...while the entire kicking operation needs to adjust

No matter if the Patriots replace Gostkowski with a rookie or a veterann free agent, the field goal and extra point operation will need to adjust — from long snapper Joe Cardona to punter/holder Jake Bailey to whoever handles the kicking. Cardona and Bailey did a good job of that during a challenging 2019 season, when a total of four place kickers took the field for the team, but every kicker is different and every change still brings some adjustment with it. Of course, this process would likely go more smoothly if the aforementioned Nick Folk was brought aboard.

Speaking of the adjustment process, kickoffs cannot be excluded from it. In 2019, after Gostkowski was placed on injured reserve, the Patriots turned to Bailey to serve as a kickoff specialist. The Stanford product showed off his strong leg and ball placement on a regular basis, even though his punting became a bit more inconsistent along the way. Still, him taking over kickoffs could happen again this year with Gostkowski out of the picture.

The Patriots reportedly create only $837,500 in salary cap space

Initial reports heading into the offseason had Gostkowski’s guarantees for the 2020 season substantially lower than the $2 million they actually appear to be. As a consequence, according to salary cap expert Miguel Benzan, the Patriots create only $837,500 in salary cap space upon releasing their long-time kicker — compared to a dead money figure of $3.2 million. New England is now approximately $5.15 million under the cap at the moment.

Matthew Slater is now the longest-tenured Patriot

With Gostkowski released and quarterback Tom Brady having joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency last week, the title of longest-tenured Patriot now belongs to core special teamer and team captain Matthew Slater: the 34-year-old, who was re-signed via a two-year contract earlier this month and before he was scheduled to become a free agent, originally arrived in New England as a fifth-round draft pick in 2008.

While the Patriots still have 11 players over the age of 30 on their current roster — with Slater the oldest among them — releasing Gostkowski reinforces the message sent by the club this offseason: it is trying to get younger and cheaper, while still attempting to build a competitive team around projected starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The statistically most productive kicker in New England history will not be a part of this team, though.