If there’s one thing history’s great leaders, from Galileo to Gandhi, have in common, it’s a willingness to challenge the status quo.
It’s in that spirit that, when a particular question came up and “that’s just how it is” was the only available answer, a quest for knowledge began. The question was one befitting the gravitas of these comparisons.
It was: Why don’t kickers get dealt around the NFL trading deadline?
Aggressive Googling and a thorough parsing of the transaction archives failed to turn up a midseason kicker trade in recent memory. Perhaps the Spotlight team could take a crack, but it’s doubtful the results would be any different.
That does not answer the all-important “why” question, so we set off to find out. The best answer had to do with scarcity: “Teams don’t trade kickers because they only have one,” said former NFL kicker Jay Feely. “There is a lack of proven kickers available and if you traded yours you wouldn’t be able to find a replacement.”
In some ways, that explains the whole thing. However, it begs the follow-up of why replacements are so hard to find. Rebuilding teams trade good players at the deadline all the time and are confident enough in their ability to find replacements that they’re willing to make those moves. Is it so much harder to scout kickers than it is to scout linebackers or receivers?
The best example of this right now is probably in Washington. Dustin Hopkins is a sixth-year veteran with a career 85 percent success rate on field goals and a 96 percent success rate on extra points.
Justin Tucker he is not, but he’s pretty good. Hopkins can also do essentially nothing for the Redskins this year except potentially screw up their tank job. For a contending team with a shaky kicking situation, would a kicker you don’t have to feel nervous about within 45 yards not be worth a fifth-round pick? Would that pick not be good value for Washington? And what is the nature of value, really, in an ultimately subjective society that requires it to assign objects any meaning?
Sorry. Kicking conversations get so existential. Back to this hypothetical trade.
It seems like a win-win, but it’ll also never happen. It would seriously buck convention if it did.
Patriots kicker Mike Nugent, who has played for 15 years and on eight teams, has not been traded but offered a theory that had more to do with the nature and character of the position.
“It’s one of those things where, if the three of us are doing our jobs we go week-to-week very quietly,” Nugent said, including punters and long snappers in his analysis. “I want to be one of those players where it’s like, ‘We don’t have to worry about him. He’s a professional. He’s doing everything correctly and he’s doing his job.’ That’s the kicker that I want to be.
“It’s almost like, I don’t want a coach to have to think of anything other than we’re getting 3 points here.”
Nugent has a point, the diva kicker demanding a trade is certainly not a common character.
Nugent didn’t think it was mainly a scouting issue. When he’s gone to tryouts, he said, teams aren’t just evaluating him in that workout. He feels like there’s an understanding of his game as a whole, and the strengths and weaknesses of the guys he’s competing against for a given job.
“The amount of work that goes into what these coaches and scouts do off the field, it gets 1/100th of the recognition, but these guys work so hard,” Nugent said. “It’s so impressive.”
One scout said, though, that it is challenging to find good kickers, which makes teams with good ones reluctant to trade them even if they’re not contending.
“They are pretty hard to scout, but more or less it’s because you like to ride a kicker if they have a hot hand,” Nugent said.
If even Bill Belichick, who traded up in the 2019 draft for a punter to upgrade that position even though he already had a good one, hasn’t traded for a kicker, it can’t be easy or easily effective. When Stephen Gostkowski needed hip surgery and went on injured reserve, there was no talk of trading for a kicker, and the Patriots held tryouts like every other team in that situation does.
Isn’t it possible, though, that there would be some hidden value in doing so? Teams will go to extreme lengths to gain a tiny edge on competition. They make personnel decisions with the compensatory draft pick system in mind. There are salary-cap gurus, hand-fighting gurus, quarterback gurus, so many gurus it could get overwhelming, and there’s a guru for that, too.
Couldn’t they apply some of that zeal to getting every drop of value out of the kicker position?
We’re not going to know until someone shakes things up some October and is willing to challenge the status quo.