By Tom Shaffer
You love em, you hate em, and you probably forget about em; kickers. No position commands as much love and hate as the kicker. Think about it, kickers are universally loved when they put that ball up through the uprights to score the game winner that keep your playoff hopes alive; or are universally hated when they miss the chip shot that ends your season. But there’s one group who never forgets the kickers – the front office.
Team owners, GMs, and coaches must make a real assessment of a kicker’s value to the team and indeed, determine whether a kicker will determine their team’s fate. So what DO they actually think of kickers?
Vancouver’s GM Tom “Big Deal” Pepper said that “both his best friend and girlfriend were kickers” so he has some history with the position. And having a kicker is something that he prefers to do given that his previous generic kicker from his time in Indianapolis was “garbage”, and that player kickers score from farther out and kickers score the most points of anyone.
Others don’t see a great value out of kickers. Sioux Falls owner Jacen has employed player kickers and even the first player punter, Max Maholt, in the league before. But when asked about the value of kickers he said “if you can utilize your star players right, then you don’t need to have a big leg on special teams because you will be getting in the end zone instead.” and he followed up by saying that his star TE Craig Hearn is a “huge part” of the 2 minute drill and third down offense. He feels “Impact like that is more valuable to me right now.”
Some owners take a middle road on kickers.Tulsa owner Dion Hawkins says that while he values kickers he values the community and locker room harmony more than anything, and that all things balance out so the loss of a kicker isn’t a disadvantage. Ultimately he would rather “have a great group of guys and girls and have them be happy and feel a part of something”.
Some owners however, are kicker evangelicals, preaching the prowess and value of their star player kickers. Jon Bond, owner of Las Vegas Fury, notes that his kicker and the league’s only punter both made the pro bowl last year. Jon also said his biggest reason for having a punter and a kicker has to do with their salary cap. Their low value allows him to sign a highly paid star HB and more gold players. After all “if you look at the last 3 champions, they had kickers”.
Nightwings owner, Jeremy Vega, simply had this to say “I LOVE KICKERS”. His affinity for the position happened by accident: GM BJ Armstrong insisted on having one. Jeremy relented and hasn’t looked back. He says having a kicker “has paid off huge both on the field and in the locker room”. Furthermore Jeremy notes that his kicker ,Kramer Jackman, won both games one and two on the accuracy and strength of his leg. He points to his accuracy and his locker room yoga instructions. For his part, Jackman hopes to never part ways with Denver and when asked about how people view him as a kicker “People can make all the jokes they want. My personality is I’ll laugh with them, then I’ll kick the game winning field goal on them”. After all, kickers are people too.
Nightwings owner, Vega, adds that any GM looking for a kicker should add one. It adds a totally different dimension to your team.
Finally, there is a different perspective on kickers all together. New Indy GM, Jerraud Davis-Christie, takes a wholly different approach; statistics.
While Davis-Christie doesn’t have a kicker on his team, he sees the potential for great value. He delved further by saying, “Honestly, it’s difficult to get a good read on the value of contract kickers since stats for generic kickers aren’t tracked throughout the season. It would require a deep dive to dig up those numbers. In the end, it’s not easy to justify giving up some of your offensive firepower or defensive playmakers for an advantage on special teams that nobody has really quantified”. He adds that last week’s game against Oklahoma City was both won by Indy’s kicker and lost by the OKC kicker. It came down to the kickers but “would a contracted kicker have made OKC’s game winning kick? Possibly, but you can’t know for sure.” He adds not to forget about the players you would have lost, the long gain or third down conversion that did or didn’t happen because you had a kicker. David-Christie believes the future of kicking in the SFL will be determined by the numbers – quantifiable statistics is key. Perhaps kicking isn’t magic or voodoo, the value is right there, we just haven’t run the numbers. He would like to see the statistics on FGs made, distances, points, and team wins. He says “then you can compare the stats and quantify the true value of a kicker.” I asked him about whether or not he’s planning on doing this. He had no comment.
So for now, the importance of star kickers is just like a kicked ball – up in the air and you don’t know whether it will lose you the game or win it. Or maybe the true key to success is 4 a.m. yoga, who knows. Seems to be working for Denver.