2020 NFL free agency: Ranking the top free-agent kickers and punters, starting with a former Pro Bowler

When NFL free agency kicks off on March 18, it’s almost a guarantee that kickers will be the one position group that’s generating the most headlines. OK, that’s a lie, everyone reading this knows that all eyes are going to be on Tom Brady and the other quarterbackswho are about to hit free agency, but you should at least pay attention to what’s going on in the world of kickers, and that’s because a struggling kicker can turn a team’s season upside down. 

Just ask the Indianapolis Colts about that. In 2019, the Colts went into the season with one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL, but then disaster struck when Adam Vinatieri hit just 68% of his field goals while arguably costing the Colts a chance to win in three different games. For a team that finished 7-9, those three wins were the difference between missing the playoffs and potentially winning the division title. 

The Colts weren’t the only team in the AFC South that struggled in the kicking game. The Tennessee Titans had a nightmare season at the position. Not only did they go through four different kickers, but those four only combined to hit 44.4% of their field goals in 2019, which made the Titans the NFL’s worst kicking team since 1983

When free agency starts, there will be multiple teams that will be trying to figure out their kicking situation with the Cowboys and Rams at the top of that list (The Colts will likely go with Chase McLaughlin or Vinatieri while the Titans will likely continue with Greg Joseph, who will probably have to beat out Ryan Succop for the job). 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the kickers who are scheduled to be available in free agency this year. (Keep in mind, there’s a possibility that this list could change over the next three weeks if any available kicker decides to re-sign with his current team.)

Tier 1: Best kickers available

Greg Zuerlein

Zuerlein has spent his entire eight-year career with the Rams, but that could change this season if the team decides to let him walk in free agency. The Rams decision here will be an interesting one, and that’s because there are good arguments that can be made for both re-signing Zuerlein and letting him go. 

One argument for keeping Zuerlein is that he can make a kick from nearly anywhere on the field, and he can do it in clutch situations. Although most people remember the 2018 NFC title game as the one where the Saints got hosed over by a no-call on pass interference, most Rams fans remember as the game where Zuerlein punched the team’s ticket to the Super Bowl with a miraculous 57-yard field goal in overtime, which came after he had already hit a 48-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to tie things up. 

In 2019, Zuerlein had the most extra point attempts (42) in the NFL without a miss. Overall, Zuerlein has hit at least 85% of his field goals in three of the past four seasons, and if the Rams do let him go, it would be highly difficult for them to find someone who would be considered an upgrade.

The argument for letting Zuerlein walk is that not only has he been battling injuries, but he struggled with field goals in 2019. On the injury front, he’s missed seven games over the past three seasons with a multitude of different ailments. On the field goal front, Zuerlein hit just 72.7% of his kicks in 2019, which was the fifth-worst number in the NFL. One of those misses was a field goal in Week 5 that eventually cost the Rams a playoff spot. In a 30-29 loss to the Seahawks, Zeurlein missed wide right from 44 yards away. 

If I’m the Rams, I probably try to keep Zuerlein, which might not be easy, because if I’m a team that needs a kicker, I’m definitely calling Zuerlein’s agent and making a generous offer. If the Rams are smart, they’ll try to get a deal hammered out before free agency starts. 

Ka’imi Fairbairn

Although Fairbairn is set to be a free agent, it’s hard to imagine the Texans letting him walk. Even though Fairbairn struggled some with his accuracy in 2019 — he hit just 80% of his field goals, which ranked 20th in the NFL — he came up clutch for the Texans multiple times. During the team’s wild-card playoff game against the Bills, Fairbairn hit a key 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and then followed that up in overtime with a game-winner from 28 yards away. 

During his three seasons with the Texans, Fairbairn has hit 83.7% of his field goals, and he’s come through with clutch kicks on multiple occasions, which means the likely outcome here is that the Texans do everything that can to re-sign him. During the 2019 offseason, when Fairbairn was a restricted free agent, Houston hit him with a second-round tender that ended up paying him $3.095 million last season. If he does end up re-signing with the Texans, you’ll like see Fairbairn get more than $3.5 million per year. 

On the other hand, Fairbairn has struggled with extra points during his time in Houston, so it wouldn’t be totally surprising if the Texans do decide to at least sniff around other kickers. Not only did Fairbairn miss five extra points last season, but he’s missed a total of 10 over the past three years combined. 

Tier 2: Cross your fingers and hope they kick like they did in 2019

Dan Bailey
Kai Forbath
Nick Folk

If you’re an NFL team in need of a kicker this offseason, it’s not a bad year to be looking. Although Bailey, Forbath and Folk have all struggled at times throughout their careers, all three players actually had pretty impressive seasons in 2019. 

On Bailey’s end, he almost kicked his way out of the NFL in 2017 and 2018, two seasons where he hit just 75% of his field goals. In 2019, Bailey rebounded big time with the Vikings, hitting 93.1% of his field goals, which ranked fourth in the NFL. The 32-year-old, who is currently ranked as the sixth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, should have an easy time finding a job this offseason. That being said, if there is one knock on Bailey, it’s that he struggles with extra points. Bailey missed a total of four PAT kicks in 2019 and his 90.9% conversion rate ranked in the bottom third of the NFL. 

As for Forbath, he’s been the ultimate journeyman kicker over the course of his career. The 32-year-old has played for six teams over nine seasons, and that number could jump to seven if he signs with a new team this offseason. In 2019, Forbath played for two teams — the Cowboys and the Patriots — and he might have actually created a market for himself in free agency with the way he ended the season in Dallas. After the Cowboys cut Brett Maher, who now plays for the Jets, Dallas turned to Forbath, who hit all 10 of his field goal attempts over three games with the team. After all the struggles the Cowboys have gone through in the kicking game, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to seem them re-sign Forbath before the start of free agency. 

Like Forbath, Nick Folk also spent some time with the Patriots last season. As a matter of fact, Folk spent a total of seven regular season games in New England in 2019. The reason Folk is ranked at the bottom of this tier is because there’s some serious questions about his strength. Although he hit 14 of 17 field goals last season, he went just 5 of 8 (62.5%) on field goal attempts beyond 40 yards. Before the 2019 season, the last time Folk was on the field came in 2017, when he played for Tampa Bay. During his four-game stint with the Bucs, he hit just 54.5% of his field goals (6 of 11). Basically, Folk likely isn’t going to be a hot commodity on the free agent market, which means 2020 could go a lot like 2019 for him: He’ll only get signed if a team loses its kicker due to injury. 

Tier 3: The Adam Vinatieri tier

Vinatieri has been in the NFL for 24 seasons, and during that time, he’s only played for two teams. However, that’s something that could change this year since he’s about to hit free agency. Although he’s spent the past 14 seasons in Indianapolis, there’s no guarantee that he’s going to be returning to the Colts, and that’s mainly because he had a disastrous 2019 season, where he made just 68% of his field goals, which was the second-worst conversion rate in the league. 

Not only did Vinatieri struggle, but he also had to deal with multiple injuries. The kicker missed four games in 2019 due to a knee injury that’s he’s still rehabbing, and as things stand now, Colts owner Jim Irsay doesn’t seem to have any idea whether or not Vinatieri will be returning to Indy for a 15th season. 

“I don’t know,” Irsay said over the weekend. “I know he’s rehabbing that knee and it’s something that Chris (general manager Chris Ballard) and Frank (head coach Frank Reich) will talk about and give their opinions to me.”

Irsay also didn’t make any promises that Vinatieri would return, even if Vinatieri wants to return. 

“Adam knows how much I think of him. He’s unbelievable. … We’ll see,” Irsay said. “He’s in rehab mode now, and we’re in the middle of trying to put the team together.”

The Colts already have Chase McLaughlin under contract and might choose to move on from Vinatieri so that they don’t risk losing their new kicker, who converted 5 of 6 field goals during Vinatieri’s absence last season. If the Colts go with McLaughlin, Vinatieri probably wouldn’t have a lot of options, and that’s because there’s not exactly going to be a robust market for a 47-year-old kicker, even if he is a future Hall of Famer. 

If Vinatieri can convince teams that 2019 was an aberration, he might be able to find someone willing to sign him to a deal for 2020, and it won’t be hard for him to make the argument that the 2019 season was out of character for him. Before last season, Vinatieri had hit at least 85% of his field goals for six straight years, which means he was statistically one of the top kickers in the NFL from 2013 to 2018. Basically, if Vinatieri can prove that age isn’t slowing him down and that he’s completely healed from his injuries, there will probably be at least one team that will give him a shot. 

Of course, if he does play in 2020, Vinatieri would probably prefer to play indoors due to his age, which means Dallas or Minnesota would both be a potential fit. On the other hand, if Vinatieri doesn’t have any viable options, then the NFL’s all-time leading scorer could just hang up his cleats for good and call it a career. 

Kickers set to be restricted free agents: Zane Gonzalez (Cardinals), Aldrick Rosas (Giants)

Punters hitting free agency

Sam Martin
Britton Colquitt
Laclan Edwards 
Matt Bosher

Assuming no one on this punter list re-signs with their team before free agency starts, the market for punters could actually be pretty deep this year. 

In Detroit, Sam Martin might have played his final down with the Lions. Although Martin has been with the team since 2013, the only reason Detroit kept him last season is because he was willing to take a $700,000 pay cut. Now that he’s hitting free agency, there’s a good chance that Martin will be looking to make back the money he lost. Martin’s numbers won’t blow anyone way, but he puts his punts exactly where they’re supposed to go, which is one reason why the Lions had the second best punt coverage number in the NFL last season. In 2019, opposing teams were only able to average 4.5 yards per return against the Lions.

As for Colquitt, the soon-to-be 35-year-old proved that he can still punt during a one-year stint with the Vikings last season. After getting dumped by the Browns in 2018, Colquitt rebounded with a season that saw him average 42.6 net yards per punt, which ranked sixth in the NFL. A big reason his net yardage was so high is because no one was returning his kicks. Of Colquitt’s 62 punts in 2019, 38.7% of them (24) ended with a fair catch, which was the second-highest percentage in the NFL. 

On Edwards’ end, he averaged 45.9 yards per punt, which was the highest total of anyone on this list. The most intriguing punter expected to hit free agency is probably Bosher, who missed 13 games last season in Atlanta after being place on injured reserve due to a groin issue. When Bosher is healthy, he has one of the strongest legs in the league. The former Falcons punter has a career average of 45.7 yards per punt, which is the 12th highest total in NFL history. The 32-year-old has also ranked in the top-10 for yards per punt in five of his nine NFL seasons. 

Punters set to be restricted free agents: Matt Haack (Dolphins)

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