With mandatory minicamp in the rear-view mirror, 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 Tristan Vizcaino.
Name: Tristan Vizcaino
Position: Place kicker
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 2)
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 ERFA)
What is his experience? After a four-year college career as kicker and punter at the University of Washington, Vizcaino did not hear his name called during the 2018 NFL Draft. He had to go the free agency route instead, but it took him eight months to finally find a pro team: the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to a reserve/futures deal in January 2019. However, he failed to make their roster and had to spend his second straight season without a team. Once again, however, he signed a futures pact when the year was done.
This time, the Dallas Cowboys brought him aboard. He once again did not stick and instead continued his journey. Vizcaino briefly re-joined the Bengals, and spent time on the Minnesota Vikings’ and San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad. That latter stint led to his first ever NFL game action in January 2021. Vizcaino later joined the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers and along the way brought his career total to seven in-game appearances. He went 9-for-10 on field goal attempts and 12-for-17 on extra points.
What did his 2021 season look like? After spending time with five different teams during the 2020 season, Vizcaino joined the Chargers on a two-year, $1.49 million contract in March 2021. The contract gave him a home heading into his fourth season in the NFL, and allowed him to compete for Los Angeles’ place kicker job against incumbent Michael Badgley and rookie Alex Kessman — a competition that saw him go 2-for-3 in field goal tries during the preseason and attempt four kickoffs.
Despite those rather unspectacular numbers, Vizcaino was able to win the competition and head into the season as Los Angeles’ kicker and kickoff specialist. What followed, however, was a struggle. While he managed to go 6-for-7 on field goal attempts over the first six weeks of the season (85.7%), he was incapable of consistently splitting the uprights on point-after tries: Vizcaino missed five of his 15 extra points, including two each in Week 3 against Kansas City and Week 5 against Cleveland.
Even though the Chargers sat at 4-2 heading into their Week 7 matchup with the Patriots they decided to make a change at kicker. Vizcaino was waived and later re-signed to the practice squad. He spent the remainder of the season there, and ended his 2021 campaign with a combined success rate on field goals and extra points of just 72.7 percent. He also attempted 31 kickoffs that ended in 13 touchbacks and 18 returns for an average gain of 24.3 yards. Additionally, Vizcaino had one 32-yard punt.
What is his projected role? Vizcaino has served as a place kicker and part-time punter his entire career in the NFL and in college, so it is not hard to see what his role with the Patriots will look like. The question is where he will fit on the current depth chart at the position, and that outlook is not necessarily a rosy one for him. Even with Quinn Nordin on the non-football injury list, Vizcaino projects as the number two option behind veteran Nick Folk.
Does he have positional versatility? Specialists in the NFL usually bring a limited amount of versatility to the table, but Vizcaino has proven he can do more than line up for field goals and extra points. As noted above, he also has one punt on his career résumé — as well as 56 from his time at Washington — and has experience as a kickoff specialist. On top of that, he also scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown as a sophomore in college.
What is his special teams value? Unless the Patriots plan to phase out the punter position currently inhabited by incumbent Jake Bailey and rookie Jake Julien, Vizcaino will see action on no more than two special teams units. He will play on the field goal and extra point kicking teams and possibly also work on the kickoff coverage unit — a job currently held by Bailey. Covering kickoffs, Vizcaino registered one tackle during his 2021 season in Los Angeles.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots signed Vizcaino following his minicamp tryout, bringing him aboard on a rather straight-forward one-year contract. The deal carries a salary of $825,000 and no guarantees or additional bonuses; Vizcaino’s salary cap number is therefore $825,000 even though it currently is not counting against the books. With the NFL’s Top-51 rule in place throughout the offseason, the deal will only weigh against New England’s cap if Vizcaino makes the roster.
How safe is his roster spot? Despite his relatively advanced age, Nick Folk is the clear favorite to win the Patriots’ place kicker gig again this year. Accordingly, Vizcaino’s spot on the team is in real jeopardy even though he was signed just a few days ago. That said, he might be able to compete for a spot on the practice squad or another team’s roster if producing a solid performance during training camp and the three-game preseason slate.
One-sentence projection: With Folk not going anywhere, Vizcaino will be released on roster cutdown day but added to the practice squad after clearing waivers.