It sounds like something out of a Bill Belichick fever dream: With the release of Stephen Gostkowski earlier this week, could the Patriots head coach consider making Jake Bailey – who handled both kickoff and punt duties last year – his full-time kicker and punter?
Bailey impressed as a rookie in 2019, so much so that you could make a case that he was the most impactful first-year player on last year’s roster. The fifth-round pick out of Stanford was a two-time AFC special teams player of the week, and ended the year with a 44.9 yards per punt average. In addition, 36 of his punts landed inside the opponents’ 20, the second-best total in the league. He also handled kickoff duties, finishing the year with 38 touchbacks.
So could he expand that role moving forward? It’s been done before, albeit with limited success.
Most recently, the Chargers utilized Ty Long in that role last season after kicker Michael Badgley had health issues. Long handled all three jobs – kickoffs, kicking, and punting – for a brief stretch, finished 7-for-9 on field goals, 9-for-9 on extra points, and 47 yards per punt.
However, the Chargers decided to add another kicker for a few reasons, including the fact that the workload might have been too taxing on Long.
“It’s exhausting mentally and physically,” said Long, who did it for two seasons in the CFL. “It’s a whole different thing, you know. There’s a reason there was only one person doing it, because it is tough, and I was an exception just because I had some experience doing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
Former kicker Jay Feely isn’t a fan of trying to combine the roles.
“[I] hate the idea," he said. "The techniques for punting and kicking work against each other. Takes a toll on the legs and you can’t practice enough for each. When Chargers tried to do it with Ty Long for a few weeks last year that is what he told me was his biggest issue.”
In the Patriots’ case, there are a few things worth considering.
The first: Bailey has an extensive resume when it comes to handling multiple special teams roles. As a high school senior, he made a 54-yard field goal (one of three field goals he made from 50-plus), and was 12-for-16 on field-goal attempts. In addition, he was 26-for-27 on extra points.
Jon Wallace, who coached Bailey at Santa Fe Christian School in California, says he has no doubt Bailey could get it done at the NFL level.
“I always thought his long-term future was on field goals,” explained Wallace. “He hit a number of big field goals for us. You also have to remember this is a guy who has handled multiple roles before. He has that sort of mindset to succeed.
“I’m actually shocked that more teams don’t try it, especially with cap issues these days,” he added. “If you can get a dual guy, it makes so much sense. You’re getting so much more bang for your buck.”
Then, there’s Belichick’s non-traditional approach when it comes to the kicking game. Kicking consultant Chuck Zodda is intrigued by the idea.
“In short spurts, Belichick does like to get creative in the kicking game. Remember in the Eagles game with the [Nate] Ebner kick, or the [Doug] Flutie drop kick? He’s not afraid to play around with it a bit.
“The question is: Would he do it for a full season? He’s carried kickers on the practice squad. Maybe he could try it, and stash a guy on the practice squad for four weeks, and if you ultimately don’t trust him, you move him up. Or, you grab a league average guy off the street in early October. But it’s certainly worth considering, because you pick up that extra roster spot.”
One potential obstacle? Timing.
Zodda notes kickoffs are an untimed action, while field goals and extra points have to be completed quickly, usually in under two seconds.
“Does he have the quickness to be able to generate the same power from start to finish? That’s just something we don’t know,” said Zodda. “That obviously is fundamentally different. He can get punts off, but it’s a different skill set, and a different type of kick. Then, there’s the trajectory – how does the ball come out? Does it come out high enough over the line without getting blocked? You look at something like that with bailey: Can he levitate the ball quickly? We just don’t know.”
Then, there are roster questions: what happens if Bailey got hurt? Zodda notes that even though injuries are relatively rare for specialists, if he’s injured, it weakens you at two positions, and you’ve lost your roster flexibility. As a result, you need to bring in two salaries, not just one, and it could cost you more in terms of dollars and performance.
But when it comes to pushing the team-building envelope, Zodda believes that if there’s a head coach in the NFL who might be all in on this idea, it’s Belichick.
“NFL coaches are too often content to fail in ways that are familiar, rather than trying to push the envelope and innovate,” Zodda said. “If there’s one who isn’t afraid of failure, especially on weird special teams stuff, it’s Belichick.”