The team currently has 91 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series kicks continues with kicker Nick Folk.
Name: Nick Folk
Position: Place kicker
Jersey number: 6
Size: 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 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 followed by the Patriots picking him up as a free agent during the 2019 season and later re-signing him for 2020 as well.
What did his 2020 season look like? Despite playing some solid football for the Patriots in 2019, Folk’s trip to unrestricted free agency was a slow one in 2020 that lasted more than five months. While he did remain in active conversation with New England throughout the process and also had a tryout with the Cleveland Browns at one point in August, he did not sign a new contract until later that same month: Folk returned to the Patriots on a one-year pact to compete against fifth-round rookie Justin Rohrwasser.
While both players were initially released on roster cutdown day and signed to the practice squad, Folk eventually emerged as the winner of that competition by being promoted back to the active roster ahead of opening day. The veteran remained on the team for all 16 games and played some impressive football along the way: he made 26 of his 28 field goal attempts for a success rate of 92.9 percent and also was successful on 90.9 percent of his extra point kicks by splitting the uprights on 30 of 33 attempts.
His combined accuracy in both categories — 91.8 percent (56 of 61) — had him ranked ninth in the league for the 2020 season. For comparison, ex-Patriot Stephen Gostkowski finished as just the 21st most accurate kicker in football (86.5%). Folk’s consistency certainly was impressive, but so was his ability to perform under pressure: he made game-winning kicks from 50-plus yards away as time expired in the fourth quarter not once but twice.
In Week 9 against his former team, the Jets, Folk nailed a 51-yarder to help lift the Patriots over their division rivals with a final score of 30-27. Three weeks later against the Arizona Cardinals, he repeated the feat: he was good from 50 yards out to give New England a 20-17 victory. After each of his game-winning kicks — which showed his leg strange after he was primarily a mid-range kicker in 2019 — the ultra-reliable Folk was recognized as the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
What is his projected role? Folk was re-signed earlier this offseason to compete with former second-round draft pick Roberto Aguayo and undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin for the Patriots’ place kicking job this season. The 36-year-old’s role is not expected to include any additional duties, however: third-year man Jake Bailey will again perform both punts and kickoffs, leaving Folk 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 ever since arriving in New England — showing that he can kick in the inclement Massachusetts weather — and also brings considerable experience to the table: Folk has made 290 of 356 field goal attempts (81.5%) so far in his career as well as all but seven of his 402 extra point tries (98.3%).
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? As mentioned above, Folk re-signed with the Patriots earlier this offseason: the veteran returned on a one-year free agency pact that includes a fully guaranteed $1.1 million salary as well as a $125,000 signing bonus. Together with a $400,000 roster bonus that is considered likely to be earned, Folk will hit New England’s books with a cap hit of $1.63 million — 19th highest in the league this year among players at his position.
What is his roster outlook? Despite his comparatively small salary cap number and the competition he faces in the form of Roberto Aguayo and Quinn Nordin, Folk can be seen as a near-lock to make New England’s 53-man roster this year. He is the highest-profile kicker on the team, has received considerable guarantees as part of his contract, and has proven himself a reliable presence ever since his initial arrival in 2019.