The Indianapolis Colts are facing a difficult decision regarding the future of their legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri.
The 46 year old continues to endure an up-and-down season in Indianapolis, where every time it appears he has safely turned the corner, his struggles once again rear their ugly head—raising questions of whether this is truly the end.
It came again at the worst possible time on Sunday, as Vinatieri badly missed a game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt wide left that would’ve sent the Colts home with an impressive road victory.
Yes, the hold by punter Rigoberto Sanchez wasn’t ideal—who didn’t properly ‘spin the laces,’ but Vinatieri’s kicking foot looked like it dragged the dirt prior to even making contact with the football—as it realistically never had a chance to begin with.
That miss, and Vinatieri’s overall struggles, were further magnified by an extra point attempt that was blocked late in the second quarter—as it appeared to be a relatively low kick.
On the season, Vinatieri is now 12 for 17 (71%) on field goal attempts, which is tied for 28th among kickers. He’s 14 for 19 (74%) on PAT attempts which is 36th at his position.
There’s no question he’s the greatest kicker of all-time, but in 2019, he has struggled.
Still, Vinatieri’s a 4x Super Bowl Champion, 3x First-Team All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowler, and has the most career points in NFL history and the most field goals ever made respectively.
Vinatieri has successfully converted so many big kicks in his career—and on a lot grander stages, which is why it was so surprising to see such a feeble last minute attempt on Sunday—that sailed awfully wide left—like a severely wounded duck swallowed by the thick Heinz Field air in the closing minutes.
Despite his struggles, the Colts—at least according to head coach Frank Reich, still have “all the confidence in the world” in the veteran kicker and appear willing to see if he can kick his way out of it, but sometimes actions can speaker louder than words.
After their Week 2 win—which saw Vinatieri miss two extra points, the Colts already worked out a group of kickers including Elliott Fry, Cole Hedlund, Greg Joseph, Younghoe Koo, Chase McLaughlin, and Cody Parkey—meaning their patience has already been tested once and could becoming increasingly thinner.
It’s not an easy decision regarding an all-time great like Vinatieri though—struggles or not.
Yes, he’s old—especially for football standards after 24 seasons, but his track record of success speaks for itself regarding his longevity. He’s also one of the captains for the Colts, and a highly respected veteran voice in their locker room.
Even with his misses this season, there still might not be a more clutch kicker in the playoffs than Vinatieri—if the Colts can find a way to hang on and make it there—with homefield advantage certainly improving his kicking chances.
However, Vinatieri has already arguably cost the Colts two regular season wins (this past weekend and their opener against the Los Angeles Chargers, where he missed two field goals and an extra point attempt).
In order to outlast the Houston Texans in the AFC South, the Colts may not have the luxury for any more critical Vinatieri misses down the stretch.
That being said, the available options among street free agent kickers after Week 9 aren’t great, and those veterans are typically free agents for a reason—in a league where a handful of teams are already employing suspect options to begin with.
The New England Patriots have already found this out the hard way in 2019, when the team lost All-Pro kicker Stephen Gostkowski to a season-ending injury—only to sign veteran Mike Nugent—who was replaced by fellow veteran Nick Folk after Nugent consistently struggled.
Nevertheless, it’s a relatively low bar to surpass Vinatieri right now given his recent struggles.
Is it worth a shot?
However, the grass may very well not be greener here, as it’s not as though any of the free agent options would assuredly be highly reliable either. In fact, no one that is readily available off the street really inspires much confidence.
Also, if the Colts released Vinatieri, it wouldn’t be surprising if his old team, the Patriots, would dump Folk and take a flyer on the future Hall of Famer—hoping that he could recapture his former form—and hit clutch kicks for them in the process. (After all, Bill Belichick seems to believe more in veteran greats than most.)
Simply put though, the Colts are caught between a rock and a hard place right now regarding Vinatieri’s future with the team—and potential AFC contention at stake.
There’s no real black and white answer here.
Rather, it’s quite murky.