Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Feb 2009

Bengals Use Franchise Tag On Kicker

They may lose T.J. Houshmandzadeh to free agency, but they'll still have Shayne Graham, darn it. The Bengals were sixth in kicking for points in 2005, 11th in '06, eighth in '07, and 13th last year.

Posted by: Vince Verhei on 16 Feb 2009

20 comments, Last at 18 Feb 2009, 6:54pm by Amp

Comments

1
by mattman7 (not verified) :: Mon, 02/16/2009 - 9:41pm

Didn't the patriots do this once on Viniateri? Or maybe it was the Broncos with Elam. Either way, I swear this happened a few years ago.

12
by Feagles - King ... :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 10:01am

According to this article, they franchised Vinatieri in 2002 and 2005:

http://wbztv.com/local/matt.cassel.franchise.2.927538.html

2
by Eddo :: Mon, 02/16/2009 - 9:49pm

Is it that bad to use this tag on a kicker? Kickers have such low relative salaries that even top-five can't be that bad, can it?

Now, I don't really know if Graham is a top-five kicker, but it can be hard to find a replacement kicker. Ask the 2008 Saints. Or the late 90s-early 00s Bears.

14
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:07pm

Yes, it was so hard for the Saints to find a replacement kicker that the guy they found was perfect on all of his kicks.

3
by c_f (not verified) :: Mon, 02/16/2009 - 10:11pm

Graham's good, but franchise tag, really? I suppose the only thing worse would be to franchise a punter- hello, Atlanta!

Is it really worth it to franchise a K when you can pick one up late in the draft or in free agency? If you'd rather just have peace of mind, why not sign the dude to a long-term deal, which is fine considering kickers don't make very much money. Or just grab a late round/UDFA rookie or two and have a training camp battle. Lindell, Gould and Vinateri all went undrafted and those are just names that come to mind.

(Saints shouldn't have stuck with Gramatica, that's what their problem was. But rookie UDFA Garrett Hartley finished the season perfect on FGs and XPs.)

8
by Robo-Pope :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:35am

I don't see why franchising a punter would be worse. Punters actually have measurable, consistent value from year to year. Kickers just get "clutch" tags thrown around mostly based on luck.

17
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:41pm

Kickoff distance has a real, measurable value, and is consistent from year to year.

18
by tally :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:47pm

Sure, but it looks as if most teams look at FG/XP value, which is not consistent year-to-year, and the Bengals weren't very good at kickoffs, although that's probably their coverage as well.

4
by Wait, what? (not verified) :: Mon, 02/16/2009 - 10:26pm

According to Google, the Pats did indeed franchise Vinateri; the Broncos also franchised Elam, as noted above.

The Lions are apparently planning to franchise their kicker, which seems kind of demeaning somehow.

And, perhaps I missed the XP on this, but the Falcons just franchised their punter.

5
by Yaguar :: Mon, 02/16/2009 - 10:40pm

If you don't want to use the tag anywhere else, it's a pretty reasonable thing to do. And kickers can be important. What's with all the disdain?

7
by Vince Verhei :: Mon, 02/16/2009 - 10:50pm

Kickers are notoriously volatile from year to year. Graham has been good (not top-five good, but good) in the past, but he's just as likely to be bad next year as he is to be good. The Bengals would be better off signing a street free agent for the minimum instead of devoting this much coin to a kicker.

10
by ammek :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 4:38am

Yeah, but cold-weather, outdoor-stadium teams are at a hefty disadvantage in the kicker/punter market. Their stats are always inferior; they rarely go to Pro Bowls, especially on a small-market, low-scoring team like Cincinnati; and the range of skills required is greater. I think it makes sense, once you've got a specialist you believe in, to keep him -- and if that means franchising him, so be it. Ron Wolf, ex-Packer GM, said the biggest mistake of his time in Green Bay was letting a punter, Craig Hentrich, leave through free agency. And this from the man who hired Ray Rhodes and drafted Terrell Buckley.

That said, franchising Graham implies the Bengals don't have anyone else they want to keep ...!?

13
by Yaguar :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 11:09am

That's not really true. It's fair to say that there is fairly low variation in field goal kicking ability, and there's high season-to-season variation in kicker stats because of small sample size, but some kickers are better than others, especially as far as kickoff distance is concerned, and even in field goal kicking. It is fair to say, for example, that Stephen Gostkowski is probably better than Shaun Suisham.

They're not necessarily better off signing a street free agent. Every year there's a team or two that gets abysmal kicker play because they try to play that game and not commit any resources to the kicker position. It's GMs who take your attitude that get themselves into that situation. The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, have been something like -20 points per season combined on kickoffs and field goals for the past couple of years because they've been messing around with scrubs like Nick Novak. A reliable kicker like Graham stops that from happening to you.

15
by Temo :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:30pm

The '90s Cowboys would like to talk to you about the merits of street FA kickers.

I think the main point here is that Shayne Graham is not exactly an elite kicker, and top 5 kicker money is not inconsequential ($2.483 million). In these economic times (which is a phrase that gets thrown around all too much, but whatever), I don't see how they could easily devote millions of dollars to a kicker even if salary cap implications are minimal.

All that being said, I don't think this move is terrible at all. But it can surely be questioned based on Graham's good-but-not-great production.

6
by starzero :: Mon, 02/16/2009 - 10:40pm

now, if your goal is to franchise the player you least want to lose, and you franchise your punter or kicker, what message does that send to all your other free agents? they're not as important as a kicker?

ouch.

9
by Theo :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 4:38am

Remember these are the Bengals we're talking about.
The only other FA's they would be franchise are people in the likes of Stacey Andrews (OT), Chris Crocker, Jeanty or TJ Housh.
I would not be franchizing those guys.

16
by Temo :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:38pm

now, if your goal is to franchise the player you least want to lose

That is rarely the only goal of the franchise tag. It is also used to avoid risk in long term contracts (Brandon Jacobs), to lock in a player at below market value (Nnamdi Asomugha), and to use as a convenience in cases such as when a player is at a position that does not pay particularly well, but has a disproportionate (to the pay) impact on team performance (Albert Haynesworth in 2008).

Whenever a kicker/punter gets franchised, it's for the third reason. Kickers and Punters don't make a ton of money so the franchise tag price is pretty low. So you can lock in a reliable player at a position that has a disproportionate effect on the game if you don't have confidence there.

11
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 8:52am

I think Graham was their #1 offensive weapon last year, so in that light, it makes sense. Sort of.

I might be inclined to argue that reliable kickers are just as or more scarce than reliable starting QBs - not that its a harder position, just that its a position where the physical skills required for long-term success are incredibly scarce. With 32 teams in the league, I can think of only a handful of kickers who are retained by the same team, and the rest get cycled around in the perpetual kicker carousel of the NFL.

19
by Joseph :: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 1:00pm

Another thought:
TJ was the only guy REALLY worth using the franchise marker on. My guess is that either the Bengals don't want to have TWO high paid WRs and screw up their cap for years to come, or TJ threatened to hold out/make a big stink/demand a trade etc. Either way, debatable football decision, not bad from a economic one.

Regarding the Falcons franchising the punter, he is also the kickoff specialist and takes 60+ yd FGs (or at least has in the past). In the NFC South 4 Downs article, the only guy mentioned that has a name worth the tag is Lawyer Milloy--and I'm sure even HE doesn't think he's worth it. In a sense, their GM has the team set up GREAT for the long term--their best players are under contract for a while. (AND I HATE THEM FOR IT!!--I'm a Saints fan.)

20
by Amp (not verified) :: Wed, 02/18/2009 - 6:54pm

According to this table from an article by Rick Gosselin dated Dec 17 (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/columnists/rgosselin/sto...), Graham is the most accurate active kicker in the NFL, and the 2nd most accurate in history. It doesn't seem like a stretch to pay him Top 5 money (particularly as the Bengals only other reasonable use of the tag would be on TJ, who has said he'll skip camp if tagged).

Also does anyone know how Matt Stover's numbers compare to other kickers in the Hall of Fame - he's kicked at a high level for an awful long time now.

A list of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. Nine are active:

Rank Player, Team FG FGA Pct.
1. Mike Vanderjagt, retired 230 266 86.5
2. Shayne Graham, Cin. 170 198 85.85
3. Nate Kaeding, SD 115 134 85.82
4. Robbie Gould, Chi. 107 125 85.6
5. Rob Bironas, Tenn. 108 127 85.0
6. Matt Stover, Balt. 456 545 83.6
7. Phil Dawson, Cle. 212 255 83.1
8. Jeff Reed, Pitt. 161 194 82.9
9. John Carney, NYG 454 550 82.5
10. Matt Bryant, TB 136 166 81.9
*Minimum 100 field goals madeThrough the years