Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Since March 9, 2017, one could make a strong argument that Robbie Gould has been the best kicker in the NFL. Gould has been the NFC Special Teams player of the Week four times and was a 2018 Pro Bowl alternate. Off the field he’s been a standout member of the franchise, most notably as the team’s nominee in 2018 for the Walter Payton man of the year award. Prior to the 2018 season Gould was present at the State of the Franchise event and said “This is probably the best locker room in my 14-year career that I’ve been a part of.” Between his on-field accomplishments and his off the field work, it was an easy, but maybe not financially wise, decision for the team to place the franchise tag on Gould this offseason. The tag carried a roughly $5.01 million cap hit for the 2019 season. From here things got dicey, Gould held out, refused to show up for OTAs and wouldn’t commit to attending training camp. After news broke of a flirtation with Stephen Gostkowski, Gould asked the team for a trade, stating that he wanted to be closer to his family in Chicago. However, on July 15 the two sides reached an agreement on a four-year extension worth $19 million with $10.5 million guaranteed.
While the 49ers have their kicker back in the facility, this contract seems to be another in a long line that the team has handed out that makes some question their evaluation of positional value. In today’s NFL, the fullback is a dying breed, yet Kyle Juszczyk was given a four-year $21 million contract with an annual salary more then double the next highest-paid fullback. Then Jerick McKinnon was handed a four-year, $30 million contract, and just this offseason Kwon Alexander was signed for four years and $54 million. These four players are either near or at the top of their respective positions in annual salary while none of them play what’s deemed a premium position in the modern NFL. The 49ers should receive some credit for going after the players that they believe best fit their scheme and give the team the best chance to win, but contracts like these look great when the team is flush with cap space but when dollars get tight and players like DeForest Buckner and George Kittle are ready for extensions they’ll be a much harder pill to swallow.
Gould has been lights out the last two seasons, making 72 of his 75 attempts, and he handles the swirling wind in Levi’s Stadium with little issue and has proven to be a clutch kicker with the game on the line. But minus his 10/10 season with the Giants in 2016, his two seasons with the 49ers are by far the best of his career and his career average of 87.7 percent places him slightly above the NFL average since 2010.
Even without signing another big-ticket kicker like Gostkowski, the 49ers could have found a serviceable kicker for half the price that they needed to bring Gould back. Kickers by average are getting better, since 2004 the NFL average conversion rate hasn’t dipped below 80 percent and has steadily climbed to 84.7 percent last season. Following that trend kickers are becoming more successful at greater distances, since 2011 teams are attempting 0.6 field goals per game from 40-49 yards and 0.3 from 50-plus.
None of this is meant to be a knock on Gould; I firmly believe that players should get every dollar they can during their career. But this is another worrisome contract that brings into question how this team is being built and if the front office is at the forefront of the modern NFL or lagging behind as the league evolves around them.
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