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Patriots 2021 offseason preview: Kicker question will once again will be a big one for New England

Related: Patriots offseason preview: Safety position one of the deepest on New England’s roster

New England Patriots vs Arizona Cardinals Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

While the NFL playoffs are still underway with two teams left standing, the New England Patriots are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: after not qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2008, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the 7-9 squad has a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins.

With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position after the other. Today, the series concludes with a look at the team’s specialists.

Roberto Aguayo

Age: 26

Experience: 4

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season after signing a futures contract with the Patriots.

2020 review: After spending the entire 2018 regular season and all of 2019 out of the NFL, Aguayo was given another chance by the Patriots: the team brought the former second-round draft pick in for a workout in December and five days later was signed to its practice squad. Aguayo spent the rest of the New England’s season on the developmental roster, not having appeared in a game for the third straight year.

2021 preview: While Aguayo’s future outlook is uncertain given his time away from the league (and inability to even make the XFL), he will likely get a chance to compete for the Patriots’ place kicker position in 2021. That is especially true in case incumbent Nick Folk leaves via free agency and/or second-year man Justin Rohrwasser fails to develop.

Jake Bailey

Age: 23

Experience: 2

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Bailey has a salary cap hit of $922,520 in 2021.

2020 review: Coming off an impressive but at times inconsistent rookie season, Jake Bailey made an enormous jump in Year Two. Not only did he continue his solid work as a kickoff specialist, he also was the best punter in the NFL: Bailey punted the football 55 times for an average of 48.7 yards per kick and a league-leading net average of 45.6 yards. 31 of his punts landed inside the opposing 20-yard line, while only five of them bounced into the end zone for touchbacks.

Only 12 of his punts were returned all year for an average of 5.9 yards per runback. Bailey, who also served as New England’s holder on field goal and extra point tries, was voted to the first All-Pro team and the Pro Bowl after the season.

2021 preview: Entering the third year of his rookie contract, Bailey is not going anywhere. The question will rather be if a) he can continue his development in 2021, and b) if the Patriots will lock him up via a long-term deal after he becomes eligible for one in 2022 or if he will test the open market one year later.

Joe Cardona

Age: 28

Experience: 6

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Cardona has a salary cap hit of $1.12 million in 2021.

2020 review: While Joe Cardona is flying mostly under the radar given his position on the roster, he was again a valuable part of New England’s kicking game operation in 2020. No matter if it was field goals, extra points or punts, his snaps were generally on point and allowed both Jake Bailey and Nick Folk to play some very good football in 2020. Cardona’s reliability extended to his availability as well: he played in all 16 games for the sixth straight year.

2021 preview: Just like Bailey, Cardona is not going anywhere anytime soon. The 28-year-old has established himself as one of the best long snappers in the NFL and as such will continue to play an important role in the Patriots’ kicking game operation for years to come. He too appears to be a candidate for another contract extension soon, even though New England will not have to wait for another year to pass in order to sign Cardona to a new pact.

Nick Folk

Age: 36

Experience: 13

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17.

2020 review: Despite returning to the Patriots relatively late in the process — he was re-signed in late August after entering free agency in March — Folk was able to outperform rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser and earn the place kicker position on New England’s 53-man roster (after a short stint on the practice squad). What followed was an outstanding season from the veteran that was arguably the best of his career.

Folk made 26 of 28 field goal attempts for a success rate of 92.9 percent and also added 30 extra points on 33 tries (90.9%). On top of it all, he also made two game-winners as time expired: the 36-year-old kicked the Patriots to victory from 51 yards out against the New York Jets, and three weeks later to another win over the Arizona Cardinals from 50 yards away.

2021 preview: Even though he is well in his 30s and has a career field goal percentage of just 81.4, Folk could become a popular name once he enters free agency in March. He played some strong football in at times challenging conditions at Gillette Stadium, and proved that he can still be a reliable kicker. Even though the team has Justin Rohrwasser and Roberto Aguayo in the pipeline, bringing Folk back would therefore be a good move from New England’s perspective.

Justin Rohrwasser

Age: 24

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season after signing a futures contract with the Patriots.

2020 review: One year after drafting Jake Bailey in the fifth round, the Patriots selected Marshall’s Justin Rohrwasser. As opposed to his teammate, however, he failed to make an impact as a rookie: Rohrwasser struggled in training camp and ultimately was released on roster cutdown day. He was signed to New England’s practice squad and spent the entire season there without seeing any in-game snaps.

2021 preview: Even though he is entering just his second year in the league, Rohrwasser already appears to be in a make-or-break offseason. Regardless if Nick Folk is brought back in free agency or not, the youngster needs to show some improvements to fend off his competition and win the kicker position — and show why he was worth being the highest kicker selected in the draft last spring.