Coming off a 2021 season that saw them return to the playoffs but eventually come up short on wild card weekend, the New England Patriots have a long list of to-dos this offseason. One of its items is bringing back players who are scheduled to enter free agency.
There are quite a few of them: all in all, 18 players that were with New England last year are in need of a new contract. Among them is kicker Nick Folk, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 16.
Name: Nick Folk
Position: Place kicker
Jersey number: 6
Opening day age: 37
Size: 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
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.
After spending 2018 out of football and parts of 2019 in the short-lived AAF, the Patriots picked him up as a free agent during that year’s season. They later re-signed him twice. In total, Folk has appeared in a combined 42 games for the Patriots thus far. Proving himself a reliable presence at the kicker spot, he has made 90.8 percent of his field goals and 91.6 percent of his point-after tries. He also was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on three occasions, including once in 2021.
What did his 2021 season look like? Entering unrestricted free agency for a second straight offseason, Folk did not have to wait long for the Patriots to bring him back. The team retained him on a one-year, $1.63 million contract that included $1.23 million in guarantees. While he was not guaranteed to earn the kicker job again — the team also had Roberto Aguayo signed at the time and later added Quinn Nordin as an undrafted rookie — he was the favorite to win the competition entering training camp.
After missing significant parts of camp and preseason due to an undisclosed injury, however, Folk was released on roster cutdown day. Nordin initially remained on the 53-man team, but the youngster did not see any game action: Folk was elevated from the practice squad twice before officially re-joining the active team in late September. At that point, Nordin had already been sent to injured reserve due to an abdominal injury. Folk, meanwhile, would remain on the active roster throughout the rest of the season.
His performance was once again solid. While he did miss the potential game-winner against the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4 — his 56-yard attempt hit the upright — Folk proved himself one of the most reliable players on New England’s roster. Appearing in all 17 of the team’s regular season games, he finished with the sixth best field goal percentage in the NFL: Folk was successful on 36 of his 39 attempts for a rate of 92.3 percent. For comparison, he had made 92.9 percent the previous year.
Folk was not quite as accurate on extra point attempts, going 42-for-47 (89.4%), but he was nonetheless a serviceable presence for the Patriots capable of handling the challenging conditions at Gillette Stadium. His combined accuracy in both kicking categories — 90.7 percent (78 of 86) — was just slightly worse than 2020’s and had him ranked 18th in the league for the 2021 regular season. Folk then went on to make his lone field goal attempt plus both his extra point tries during the playoff loss in Buffalo.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Since joining the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick in 2007, Folk has signed numerous contracts in the league. He started with his standard four-year rookie pact in Dallas, and later signed multiple deals in New York — the largest of which a four-year, $12 million contract extension in 2014. While he has been playing on one-year pacts recently, his estimated contractual career earnings still exceed an estimated $15.9 million, according to Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? Despite his comparatively advanced age, multiple teams might be interested in bringing a player of Folk’s experience and consistency aboard. Among those who might want to upgrade their place kicker spot this year are the New York Jets, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks — all of whom struggled in the kicking department during the 2021 season.
Why should he be expected back? Folk is as steady a kicker as the come. While the Patriots have twice released him on roster cutdown day for procedural reasons, he has proven himself a kicker capable of performing well in the challenging New England conditions. His numbers over the last two-and-a-half seasons show how reliable he has been and the kind of value he might still have for the team despite being in his late 30s.
Why should he be expected to leave? Coming off back-to-back seasons that saw him put forward some strong kicking performances, Folk is expected to generate a solid market in free agency. There is a chance that his price tag might be pushed beyond New England’s liking. With rookie Quinn Nordin having shown some promise last summer, the team might decide to roll the dice instead of overextending to bring Folk back.
What is his projected free agency outcome? While the Patriots would not be opposed to Quinn Nordin earning the kicker job in 2022, they will likely not hand it to him straight away. Instead, bringing Folk back on another one-year deal at around $1.5 million would make sense for both parties. After all, Folk has shown that he can still play on a high level and at the very least would provide quality competition over the course of the summer.
Will the Patriots re-sign Nick Folk?
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