With training camp underway, the New England Patriots currently have 80 players officially under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer — just like we did the last three years as well — we will continue to take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of the recent additions to New England’s roster.
Name: Nick Folk
Position: Place kicker
Jersey number: 6
Size: 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? After serving as both a place kicker and a punter during his time at the University of Arizona, Folk entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2007. Finding immediate success at the pro level, the rookie was voted to the Pro Bowl in his first year and went on to appear in 47 games for the team before being let go again following a disappointing 2009 season. However, his release did open the door for him to join the New York Jets with whom he spent a combined six years.
Folk played a total of 107 regular season and playoff games for the Jets, and with the exception of a stint on injured reserve in 2015 proved himself a reliable kicker by making 82 percent of his field goal attempts in green and white. The veteran went on to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2017, but ended his season prematurely due to injury before spending 2018 out of football. A stint in the short-lived AAF was finally followed by the Patriots picking him up as a free agent midway through the 2019 season.
What did his 2019 season look like? After not finding a new team following his release from the Buccaneers the previous February, Folk was offered an opportunity to work out for the Chicago Bears in January 2019. The team did not sign him to a contract, but the veteran kicker did find a new home fairly quickly after his tryout: the very next day, he signed a deal with the Arizona Hotshots of the new AAF. His stint in the league proved to be at least somewhat successful before it ceased operations in late April.
Appearing in eight games, Folk made 12 of 16 field goal attempts (75%) — including three from beyond 50 yards with a league-record 55-yarder among them. Field goals were his only chance to prove himself, though: AAF rules did not have kickoffs or extra points, meaning that he touched the football only 16 times all season. Folk eventually ranked sixth both in terms of field goal accuracy and field goals made before the league folded and his contract with the Hotshots was voided.
Despite ranking in the bottom half of kickers in the AAF, Folk was invited for another free agency workout in the NFL: the Patriots brought him in to help replace the injured Stephen Gostkowski. They went with fellow veteran Mike Nugent at first, but eventually did sign Folk after Nugent struggled to fill Gostkowski’s former spot. Folk started his tenure in New England in solid fashion by making his first nine kicks before going two-of-four during a mid-November game against the Dallas Cowboys played in challenging conditions.
Folk’s spot on the team was still safe despite the two misses, but the Patriots nevertheless decided to release him after he underwent an appendectomy the following week. Kai Forbath was brought aboard for one week as a stand-in before Folk was re-signed again to finish the season with the Patriots. All in all, he therefore appeared in seven regular season games and the team’s lone playoff contest while making 16 of 19 field goal attempts (84.2%) as well as all 13 of his extra point kicks.
What is his projected role? Folk was re-signed earlier this week to compete with fifth-round rookie Justin Rohrwasser for the Patriots’ place kicking job this season. The 35-year-old’s role is not expected to include any additional duties, however: second-year man Jake Bailey will perform both punts and kickoffs, leaving Folk and Rohrwasser to focus exclusively on field goal and extra point attempts.
What is his special teams value? Folk’s value to the Patriots and their kicking game operation comes from his ability to successfully perform field goals and extra points. He did both last year during his brief stint in New England — showing that he can kick in the inclement Massachusetts weather — and also brings considerable experience to the table: Folk has made 264 of 328 field goal attempts (80.5%) during his career as well as all but four of his 369 extra points (98.9%).
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, Folk will kick field goals and extra points even though in theory he could also fill other spots on the team: he served as a punter in college — finishing his career with 96 punts for an average of 44.2 yards — and also was used on kickoffs and the ensuing coverage plays in the NFL. His career résumé includes a total of four special teams tackles between his stints with the Cowboys and the Jets.
What is his salary cap situation? While no details of Folk’s deal with the Patriots have yet been reported, the one-year pact will likely be for the veteran’s minimum with Folk qualifying for the NFL’s veteran salary benefit. Accordingly, as pointed out by Miguel Benzan, Folk would hit the Patriots’ salary cap with $750,000 if no additional bonus money is attached to the pact (which seems unlikely).
What is his roster outlook? The addition of Folk to the Patriots’ roster has started a training camp competition that did not exist earlier this offseason. As the second place kicker on New England’s roster alongside rookie Justin Rohrwasser, the veteran will compete for practice reps and eventually a spot on the team. Rohrwasser may have the upside, but Folk is a proven commodity who could very much come away victoriously if he proves himself a steady presence — just like he did last year.