With free agency and the draft firmly in the rear-view mirror and organized team activities underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 85 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with veteran kicker Nick Folk.
Name: Nick Folk
Position: Place kicker
Jersey number: 6
Opening day age: 37
Size: 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2023 (2024 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.
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.
What is his projected role? Folk’s job is to kick the football through the uprights, and he has done that at a very solid rate since first arriving in New England during the 2019 season. He will be asked to do just that again this year, with his job not expected to include any additional duties: while Folk will focus on field goals and extra point attempts, the majority of kickoff will once again be handled by punter Jake Bailey.
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, Folk will primarily focus on field goals and extra points. In theory, though, 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 throughout his NFL career. Just last year, he kicked the ball off 12 times for four touchbacks and the opponent gaining an average of 16.6 yards on eight returns. He did not register any special teams tackles in 2021 but has four of them on his career résumé.
What is his special teams value? Folk’s value to the Patriots and their kicking game operation stems 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 368 of 442 field goal attempts (83.3%) so far in his career as well as all but 12 of his 449 extra point tries (97.3%).
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots retained Folk on a two-year, $5 million contract earlier this offseason. In 2022, he will play on a fully-guaranteed base salary of $1.12 million as well as a $585,000 signing bonus proration and $510,000 worth of likely-to-be-earned roster bonuses. Folk’s resulting cap hit of $2.22 million is currently the 26th highest on New England’s roster, and 20th among all NFL place kickers.
How safe is his roster spot? Based on the structure of his contract, Folk appears to be a relatively safe bet to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster this year. After all, releasing him after June 1 — e.g. during roster cutdowns — would create a $1.71 million dead cap charge compared to savings of just $510,000. That being said, he will still need to prove himself versus second-year man Quinn Nordin; the former UDFA has an advantage in terms of age and cost.
One-sentence projection: Folk will beat out Nordin in training camp and spend the entire 2022 season as the Patriots’ place kicker, again making roughly 90 percent of his combined field goal and point-after attempts.