Make kicks, and they are "just doing their job." But miss a kick? Well, you better hope you have an understanding and forgiving fan base.
Yesterday the Denver Broncos made the decision to lock up 27-year old Matt Prater for the next four years. Prater jumped from Detroit (2006) to Miami (2007) to Atlanta (2007) until he finally caught on with the Broncos in the middle of the 2007 season.
After having the franchise tag placed on him by Denver this off-season, the team made it obvious that they wanted to make Prater their guy for the next four years. The deal could reportedly end up being as much as $14.05 million.
It's not often that you see kickers stick with one team for a long period of time. Matt Stover did so for Baltimore, putting in 13 solid seasons as the team's Mr. Reliable, following five years with the Cleveland Browns (1991-1995; Cleveland made the move to Baltimore after the '95 season). He finished his polished, 19-year career with a season in Indianapolis.
Kicker Jason Elam was able to put up a Pro Bowl career in 17 years, spending 15 of those years with the Denver Broncos. He finished his impressive career with two subpar seasons in Atlanta. Adam Vinatieri is another noteworthy placekicker in today's game of football.
Vinatieri may be the exception to my rule, noted in the first sentence. Vinatieri, for the majority of his career, was well-known for his big-time kicks. Adam is responsible for two game-winning field goals in New England Patriot Super Bowl victories. Leaving New England in 2005, Vinatieri (at the time) had a career kicking percentage of 81.9, which was good enough for fifth all-time.
The four-time Super Bowl champion, 39, is still kicking for the Indianapolis Colts and has hit 82.9% of his 467 field goal attempts over the last 16 years. That's what I call productivity at the kicking position.
Others that have been able to pull this off for a significant period of time include Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski, San Francisco's David Akers (with Philadelphia), Detroit's Jason Hanson, New Orleans' John Kasay (with Carolina) and Cleveland's Phil Dawson.
So, why exactly is kicking a lost gem? Well, that could be because people seem to take placekicking for granted. Thinking of it as an easy task, not many teams have really focused on locking up their franchise leg, and spend each season jumping from kicker to kicker until one latches on for the remainder of that given season.
Missing kicks, as you could imagine, is the No. 1 reason a kicker would lose his job and see himself get cut from the team. Seems rather obvious, you don't do your job and you get fired. But the trick here is that no matter how reliable you have been in the past, a cold streak could just as easily land you on the street without a job.
Prater, replacing somewhat of a Denver kicking legend in three-time Pro Bowler Elam after his departure in 2007, has converted 80.4% of his kicks throughout his five years in Denver. But it has always been his strong leg that has received attention from opposing teams, as well as his own teammates.
Throughout his young career, Prater has attempted 13 kicks from 50+ yards out. Of those 13, 10 of them have been converted for three points. That's a remarkable percentage when you consider other kicking greats of his era (Stover, Vinatieri, Elam, Janikowski) have been unable to put up that kind of 50+ yard convert percentage.
If he can keep up his success over these next four years, and avoid hitting a cold streak such as long-time Pittsburgh Steeler Jeff Reed (nine seasons with team before struggling to kick straight in 2010), we could see the strong-legged Prater turn in a 18-20 year career at his position.
Note: I do not own any of the above photos. No copyright infringement intended.