Those of us who have been at training camp have seen it often. You’ve heard about it or read about it.
Justin Tucker is for real!
Now granted he hasn’t been placed in a pressure cooker situation just yet and there’s nothing that the Ravens can do in training camp or the preseason to simulate the nerve-racking tension of a game-tying kick during the waning moments of the AFC Championship. But Tucker has not only answered every single challenge thus far, he’s crushed it like several of his 50+ yard kicks that regularly split the uprights.
Some will argue that a team with Super Bowl aspirations does not want to entrust their hopes and lofty goals to a rookie kicker. And while there’s certainly validity in that notion the choice to go with Tucker isn’t defined as much by the rookie as it is by the alternative.
And that of course is Billy Cundiff.
Most Ravens fans cringe at the sound of Cundiff’s name because he sailed a game tying kick way left and with it he left the Ravens Super Bowl XLVI dreams in tatters. But is it fair to judge a kicker on one shank?
Cundiff was a Pro Bowler in 2010 while connecting on 89.7% of his field goal attempts and tied a league record with touchbacks (40). No one thought it was possible but for one season Cundiff actually made Ravens fans temporarily forget about Matt Stover.
And then 2011 happened.
Last season Cundiff ranked 31st in the NFL with field goal accuracy (76%) and was a mere 1 of 6 on attempts of 50 yards and greater. Yes he was tied for the league lead amongst regular kickers in distance off the tee yet it’s worth noting that only 4.6 yards on average separated the best and 32nd ranked kicker after teeing it up.
Ok so Cundiff didn’t play to the level of his contract in 2011 and clearly surpassed expectations in 2010. But what Cundiff could the Ravens expect going forward?
Looking at his career Cundiff didn’t even play in the league during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Between 2005 – 2008 (4 seasons), Cundiff played in only 11 games all during a period that is generally considered prime time in a career (age 25-28). His career field goal percentage is 76.7% which includes his stellar 2010.
From this chair, it looks like 2010 was the aberration and what the Ravens can expect from Cundiff in 2012 is a performance on par with 2011.
Sure going with a rookie kicker isn’t ideal. There is a certain level of risk associated with that.
But judging from Cundiff’s track record rolling the dice with him in 2012 could be a bigger risk. If he misses a very makeable kick in front of the hometown fans, the sellout crowds of M&T will unleash hell and it could ruin Cundiff. He’s been out of football for a while before. It could happen again.
At the end of the day going with the rookie Tucker is only a risk if you part ways with a good kicker. Cundiff really isn’t one and parting ways with him saves the team $2.2M in cap space – space that could be used for a veteran running back or tight end via free agency or trade.
Things would be different if the Ravens had a 32 year old Matt Stover on their roster. But they don’t.
And they could be giving one away if they don’t keep Tucker.