By: Bob George/
April 23, 2006

Year after year, Gil Santos delivered
Bill Belichick pays tribute to Patriots Hall of Fame broadcaster Gil Santos
Bill Belichick pays tribute to the late Gil Santos
Tight end Troy Niklas’ “crazy” story makes him a Patriot and a father, too
Patriots notebook: Season starts with Houston at Foxboro

Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2005 New England Patriots. Today: special teams.

He simply wanted out.

There is not much else you can say about the fact that Adam Vinatieri will be kicking for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 and beyond. Instead of being the perpetual symbol for clutch kicks and great championship moments, he will instead become the perpetual symbol for The Patriot Way. He reached a point where, in one fell swoop, management believed he had outpriced his usefulness, and he himself didn't care anyway if management had felt otherwise.

This came down to the classic case of the seeming lack of sensibility in overpaying a kicker. Many football experts believe that kickers are the most dime-a-dozen position. Some writer actually calculated the rough percentage of plays during a game in which a kicker is involved in, and it is predictably very low. Why shell out a ton of money, at the risk of upsetting the market for other positions on the club, on a kicker?

Trying to explain the practical reasons for not keeping Vinatieri is a lot easier than trying to explain the sentimental reasons. In truth, one reason both the Patriots and the Red Sox have been so successful these past few years is that, in most cases, sentiment has been shelved in favor of practicality. Tough personnel decisions have been made, but in the end both teams are championship caliber and both teams could very well win their league's next championship.

That said, here is why it made sense to let Vinatieri go.

With the signing of Richard Seymour, and the signing of Deion Branch seemingly, or rather hopefully, on deck, not signing Vinatieri to the highest dollar at his position helped somewhat keep the price down on Seymour and maybe on Branch as well. Seymour did strike it rich a few weeks back, and is now locked up for a few more years beyond 2006. But had Vinatieri been bowled over with a deal so good that he would have been compelled to stay, it could be said that Seymour's price would have gone up beyond a threshold Patriot management would have been comfortable with.

True, Vinatieri cannot be considered "old” even though he will turn 34 in December. For a kicker, that's not too old. He still has a few decent years left in that right leg of his. But giving "high money at that position” to a 34-year-old may also have been beyond that comfort threshold. Had Vinatieri been amenable to a "hometown discount”, a deal probably gets done.

If that's what Adam wanted.

The real common sense here is that it really made no sense pursuing Vinatieri in the first place, because mistakes had been made a long time ago anyway. Vinatieri had been franchised twice in the past, which is always unpopular with any player who gets tagged. It's like arbitration in baseball. Too many hard feelings come out.

In 2001, the Patriots drafted kicker Owen Pochman in the seventh round out of BYU. Vinatieri would be franchised the following year. According to our colleague Ian Logue, Vinatieri said "Whatever!” when he learned of Pochman being drafted, then was "infuriated” when the team slapped the tag on him not long after his 48-yard field goal as time expired won Super Bowl XXXVI for the Patriots.

As Vinatieri's time drew to a close in Foxborough, he desperately wanted a long-term deal. But the team would not give him one. Logue goes on to postulate that getting the second franchise tag in 2005 is what convinced him to simply not return to New England if granted free agency.

This is why many fans are so angry that Vinatieri left. It isn't so much that the team made a bad business decision in letting him go now. Instead, they made a bad business decision in not locking him up a long time ago. The Patriots treated Vinatieri like a kicker, basically. It's a dime-a-dozen position, not having any need whatsoever for the muss and fuss which other key positions require.

So in the end, Vinatieri never wanted to come back. He didn't give the Patriots a chance to match the Colt offer. That right there pretty much sums things up right there. Instead of playing one off the other, Vinatieri simply bolted. Too many hurt feelings over the years, and many more yet to come, except the hurt feelings will be his adoring fans, and not Vinatieri himself.

It will be real hard to convince Joe Patriot Fan that it was a good thing to not break the bank for a kicker. All Joe will do is pop in his DVD and watch one game winning kick after another, two of which won Super Bowls. This is a guy they likely would have made a statue of. But Adam is now a Colt, and he will be in Foxborough on November 5th in a visitor's uniform.

Who will replace him is anyone's guess. Martin Gramatica, ex of Tampa Bay, is in camp. He at least has Super Bowl experience, but is coming off an injury and is not near the kicker he was when he entered the league. A replacement kicker might be snatched up on day two of the draft.

Josh Miller will remain as the punter and the holder, as will long snapper Lonie Paxton. Both men remain among the best in the game at their respective positions. Look for Bethel Johnson to try and stave off a challenge from Ellis Hobbs on kickoff returns, making it the one true last chance to show that he belongs on the roster. With Tim Dwight gone, the punt return job is completely up for grabs. Right now, Troy Brown is the only one with experience on the roster at returning punts.

But the loss of Vinatieri will sting for quite some time. It will sting at its worst when his replacement misses his first clutch kick. There will be almost no honeymoon time for the new kicker. He will have to literally be perfect for the next two years or so before the doting public even begins to forget all about Automatic Adam.

If nothing else, Vinatieri's departure may be a boon for kickers in general. If this does become a big expose on keeping clutch kickers and paying them what they're worth, what will Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli think?

To say nothing of what Bob Kraft will think.

Last installment: coaching.