While a lot can still change, the Indianapolis Colts appear highly confident in their current place kicker Chase McLaughlin—even with reliable veteran options available.
After 47 year old legendary longtime kicker Adam Vinatieri had a really rough season in 2019—at least partially battling injuries (including a season-ending knee injury), the Colts turned to the 23 year old McLaughlin late in the year—with encouraging results.
The former undrafted rookie free agent out of Illinois was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers ahead of Week 14 (as the Colts won in waiver priority over the New England Patriots) and went on to convert 5 of 6 (83.33%) of his field goal attempts and all 11 extra point attempts for Indianapolis.
His only miss was a 47 yard field goal attempt in his debut Colts game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road during Week 14.
However, his made field goals included two 50 yard field goal attempts, so it doesn’t appear that long distance was the underlying issue for his lone miss—as McLaughlin has a strong leg by all accounts.
While there is still the NFL Draft or signing of an undrafted rookie as competition, the Colts have so far held off on signing either of the two solid veteran free agent kicking options available: the Los Angeles Rams’ Greg Zuerlein or the New England Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski.
Zuerlein, at 32 years old, had a bit of a down season in 2019 for the Rams—converting 24 of 33 of his field goal attempts (72.7%)—including a 58 yard field goal, but he made all 42 of his extra point attempts.
Greg “The Leg” has hit some pivotal playoff kicks—including some big ones that recently helped send the Rams past the Saints in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. The 9-year veteran is just two years removed from being a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler.
“Legatron” had made 201 of 245 total career field goal attempts (82.0%), and he has converted 170 of his 175 extra point attempts (97.1%) since 2015.
Meanwhile, like Vinatieri, the 36 year old Gostkowski is another former longtime kicker for the New England Patriots, who made 7 of 8 (87.5%) of his field goal attempts last year but just 11 of 15 (73.3%) of his extra point attempts before being shut down for the season with a left hip ailment which required surgery—after just four games for New England.
He’s been incredibly reliable for the Patriots in his 14-year career, has kicked in a lot of big games as a 3x Super Bowl Champion, and has been elite—as a 3x All-Pro and 4x Pro Bowler.
The Patriots’ all-time leading scorer has made 374 of 428 career field goals (87.4%) and converted 203 of 213 (95.3%) of his extra point attempts since 2015.
Now, the Colts know about as well as anyone how important the kicking game can be, as they were in a number of nail-biters last season—and arguably lost as many as three games because of Vinatieri’s continued kicking struggles.
The league’s kicking appears to be down as a whole as well—and the issue has been exasperated with the lengthening of extra point attempts since 2015.
McLaughlin has shown initial promise—having made 18 of his 23 total field goal attempts (78.3%) and all 26 of his extra point attempts in 2019—factoring in both his stints with the 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers as well.
His success and Vinatieri’s combination of age, struggles, and injuries have presumably led the Colts to unofficially move on from the greatest kicker of all-time and future Hall of Famer—although I’m not sure the franchise has to formally ever close that door publicly:
“I’m happy with Chase,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said regarding McLaughlin in his early January end-of-season press conference (via Colts.com).
“You come in and you have to follow Adam Vinatieri, you’ve got a little something to you. He’s got a really calm demeanor, he’s got a process that he goes through to kick. We like Chase.”
It makes sense that the Colts are confident in their young kicker too right now, but in a league where parity reigns and games often come down to one score—even a mere point, it’s a position that the team absolutely has to get right in 2020 after last season’s struggles.
Currently, it appears that McLaughlin is the Colts’ guy for the job—without any serious veteran competition to challenge him in training camp or preseason for kicking duties.