Following up a decade of Adam Vinatieri with 14 more years of Stephen Gostkowski gave the New England Patriots nearly unprecedented stability at a notoriously fickle position.
While he hasn't been a part of any championships just yet, Nick Folk has stepped in admirably for the Patriots since they signed him off the street midway through the 2019 season. In fact, in a (much) smaller window of opportunity, Folk has actually connected on a higher percentage of his field goal attempts (90.5) than either of his predecessors (Vinatieri was at 81.9 with the Patriots, Gostkowski at 87.4).
The 37-year-old Folk is a free agent once again, however, meaning New England has a choice to make: Run it back with Folk, who set a franchise record for consecutive field goals made (36) over the 2020-21 seasons, turn things over to youngster Quinn Nordin in hopes he shores up the position for another dozen years or so...or find an external option.
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It's a strong class of kickers, with five of the top nine in field goal percentage a season ago set to become unrestricted free agents. Here's a look at the best of the bunch, a group with certainly includes the incumbent in Foxboro.
5. Matt Gay
Stats: 32-34 FGs, 48-49 PATs
The only thing which gives pause on Gay, who won Super Bowl LVI with the Los Angeles Rams, is his missed kick against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier in the postseason. How does a kicker in today's NFL come up short, in perfect Florida weather, from 47 years out? That blunder gets overlooked in the many turnovers the Rams committed in trying to give the game away to Tom Brady. Gay did make four kicks from over 50 yards over the course of the regular season, however, and made a 58-yarder in 2019, which means perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
4. Randy Bullock
Stats: 26-31 FGs, 42-45 PATs
Bullock wound up being an upgrade for the Tennessee Titans in 2021 over Gostkowski a year earlier, although that wasn't saying much; Gostkowski fell apart for his former teammate Mike Vrabel, connecting on only 69 percent (18 for 26) of his kicks. Bullock attempted (and made) only one field goal from beyond 50 yards, a 51-yarder, but all five of his misses came in the 40 to 49-yard range. He did have a career-high 50 touchbacks, for what it's worth.
3. Zane Gonzalez
Stats: 20-22 FGs, 22-23 PATs
In only 12 games, Gonzalez was quite good for a bad Carolina Panthers team, including making all 17 of his field goal attempts from inside 50 yards. His only misses were from beyond the 50, though his long of 57 is tops among free agents to be. Has the former seventh-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns finally figured it out, or will he revert to being the 78 percent (71 for 91) kicker he was over the first four years of his career?
2. Younghoe Koo
Stats: 27-29 FGs, 30-30 PATs
Renowned for his onside kick abilities, Koo has become one of the best all-around kickers in the game after bouncing around the league for his first few seasons -- including a stint on the practice squad in Foxboro in 2019. Is he the one that got away? Koo led the NFL in scoring in 2020 for the Atlanta Falcons, when he connected on a league-best 37 of 39 field goal attempts, and followed it up with another impressive showing this season. Consider it Atlanta's revenge for 28-3.
1. Nick Folk
Stats: 36-39 FGs, 42-47 PATs
One of Folk's most impressive kicks in 2021 was one that he didn't make -- his 56-yard attempt in the final minute against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the driving rain that clung iron, a kick that would've truly made him a Folk Hero™. Even so, what more can you ask for from Folk, who's already notched four game-winning field goals in his Foxboro tenure? Folk cost the Patriots just $1.075 million in 2021. A reunion on a similar deal for a team with even greater aspirations in 2022 feels like a no-brainer.
Honorable mentions: Joey Slye, Chase McLaughlin, Greg Joseph, Dustin Hopkins.