In 23 years, Patriots have somehow managed to employ just two kickers (outside of a brief partnership with Shayne Graham following a Stephen Gostkowski injury in 2010). It's a run so remarkable that Bill Belichick frequently references the dependability the team has benefited from at that position during his tenure, thanks to Gostkowski and Adam Vinatieri.
That run might be threatened this offseason as Gostkowski is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. The Patriots haven't yet come to a long-term extension with the 12-year veteran, but they could ensure that he's back for at least one more season by using the franchise tag.
In our story from Monday on Trey Flowers, we highlighted that the Patriots don't like to use the tag. Since 2002, they've used it just nine times, and only three times did players play out the season on their one-year guarantee: Gostkowski's predecessor Adam Vinatieri was tagged in 2005 (departed as a free agent the following year), Asante Samuel in 2007 (departed as a free agent the following year) and Wes Welker in 2012 (departed as a free agent the following year).
The last time the Patriots used the tag was in 2015 on Gostkowski, who signed an extension soon thereafter. They've tagged kickers three times since 2002, franchising Vinatieri that year before signing him to an extension.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Tuesday that the tag is in play for Gostkowski once again, and it makes sense. Why? Well, the team could use the tag to buy time to work out an extension. Plus, unlike at other positions, the value of the tag for a kicker is not at all prohibitive when it comes to team-building.
Estimates peg the kicker franchise tag value for 2019 at a shade over $5 million. The Patriots, who would absorb a cap hit for the same amount should they tag Gostkowski, took a $5 million cap hit on Gostkowski in 2018. And because the salary cap has increased from a year ago, the percentage of the cap Gostkowski's one-year guaranteed deal would represent on the tag would actually be a reduction.
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When you factor Gostkowski's age (35 years old) and that the Patriots might be reluctant to come to a long-term agreement with a player in his mid-30s -- Vinatieri departed for the Colts via free agency at the age of 33 -- then one year on the tag for Gostkowski seems logical.
Gostkowski made 27 of 32 field goals in 2018 (84.4 percent, 20th in the NFL) and hit 49 of his 50 point-after attempts (98 percent, 4th among kickers with 20 attempts). He was perfect from inside of 40 yards (21-for-21), and he went 6-for-11 from 40 yards or farther. He finished sixth in the NFL in scoring (130 points), two points behind Rams running back Todd Gurley.
Gostkowski missed a field goal in the first quarter of Super Bowl LIII, but he made two more later in the contest, including one late in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.
If the Patriots want Gostkowski back but are wary of a multiyear deal for a player at his stage in his career, the Patriots could tag him without issue. The only potential drawback there is that using the tag, of course, would prevent the Patriots from tagging someone else. But given the costliness of other franchise tag options like Flowers or tackle Trent Brown, Gostkowski appears to be the most logical candidate.
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