Under the Cap: Top Ten Kickers and Punters
by J.I. Halsell
This week we wrap up our season-long look at the top ten starter contracts at each position. Hopefully this analysis has given you some insight into how the elite players at each position compare to one another. One of the things that has stood out to me is the value of top-five draft pick contracts. Those contracts often place a player's compensation in the top ten, if not top five, at his position. Also standing out are the landmark contracts of Washington’s Albert Haynesworth, Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, the 2004 Quarterback class (Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, New York's Eli Manning, and San Diego's Philip Rivers) and Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha.
Speaking of the Oakland Raiders, Asomugha wasn't the only Raider to secure a contract that put him head and shoulders above his peers. The mega-football agency CAA (led by Tom Condon and Ben Dogra) must love the Raiders, as they negotiated lucrative contracts for both Asomugha and Raider punter Shane Lechler. Through 15 weeks of the 2009 season, Lechler’s gross punting average of 51.5 yards has received the most media attention, but as Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith emphasized to me in my time in Washington, net punting average is the more critical statistic. Through 15 weeks, Lechler's net punting average is an amazing 44.2 yards. Since 1976, the highest net punting average in a season is 41.2 yards, accomplished by Lechler in 2008. Lechler is on pace to shatter that record, which perhaps justifies the contract he received this past offseason.
As the table below illustrates, Lechler's new, four-year contract guarantees him $9 million, for an average guarantee per year of $2.3 million. While other top-tier specialists on multi-year contracts receive guarantees per year in the neighborhood of $600,000 to $800,000, Lechler nearly tripled the high end of that range with his $2.3 million value. Over three years, Lechler's $12.2 million value roughly equals what other top-tier specialists will make over the total term of their contracts. Where no other top-tier specialist exceeds a guarantee of 32 percent, Lechler's contract guarantees 56.3 percentage of the total value. All in all, the Lechler contract, much like the Asomugha contract, represents a great contract for the player.
The table below also illustrates that the kicker market is more lucrative than the punter market, as Lechler and Atlanta’s Michael Koenen (playing on a franchise tender) are the only punters with contracts in the top ten. Tennessee’s Rob Bironas went from kicking in the Arena League to becoming the league’s highest-paid kicker, with an average per year of $3 million.
Although they may not be in the same class as Lechler, St. Louis' Donnie Jones and San Francisco’s Andy Lee are also elite punters. Since 1976 and through week 15 of 2009, Lechler, Jones, and Lee hold seven of the eight highest net averages in a season. So far in 2009, Jones' net average is 41.3 yards, while Lee’s net average is 41.5 yards (it should also be noted that Arizona’s Ben Graham has a net average in 2009 of 41.4 yards). However, while Lechler received a contract averaging $4 million per year with $9 million guaranteed, Lee and Jones are playing under 2007 contracts that are paying them $1.2 million and $1.1 million per year, respectively, and that guaranteed them $1.7 million and $1.2 million. This is a bargain when compared to Lechler.
Here are the top ten specialist contracts in the league:
|Top Ten Starting Specialist Contracts (in millions of dollars)|
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