The Patriots have 22 players set to hit unrestricted free agency when the NFL league year opens March 17. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at New England’s free agents.
Up next: kicker Nick Folk.
2020 stats: 26 of 28 field goals (92.9 percent), 30 of 33 extra points (90.9 percent)
Likelihood of return: Moderately high
Analysis: Folk was one of the unlikeliest success stories of this last Patriots campaign, closing out the season with 26 consecutive field-goal makes after missing his first two.
Included in those 26 straight converted kicks were two last-second game-winners — one from 51 yards out against the New York Jets in Week 9 and another from 50 against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12. Both earned Folk AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Folk’s 92.9 percent field-goal conversion rate was the best of his career, surpassing his previous high of 91.7 percent set way back in 2013. Not bad for a guy who went 760 days between NFL field-goal tries and resorted to kicking in the short-lived Alliance of American Football before he first latched on with the Patriots midway through 2019.
Folk proved to be a reliable replacement for an injured Stephen Gostkowski that year, but after he hit free agency last spring, the Patriots used a fifth-round pick on Justin Rohrwasser, making the unheralded Marshall product the first kicker selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. It was only after Rohrwasser struggled mightily in training camp that New England re-signed Folk, who easily won the job and never relinquished it.
Now, Folk is set to hit free agency again. And a quick glance at the Patriots’ current depth chart shows they’d be smart to retain him.
The only New England kickers currently under contract for the upcoming 2021 season are Rohrwasser, who spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad (and seemed to be third behind punter/kickoff man Jake Bailey on the Patriots’ list of preferred field-goal kickers), and late-season pickup Roberto Aguayo, one of the most infamous draft busts in recent NFL history.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Aguayo in the second round in 2016, then cut him after one season. He hasn’t kicked in a regular-season game since Jan. 1, 2017, and was out of football entirely from Sept. 1, 2018, until he signed with New England’s practice squad this past December.
The Patriots signed Rohrwasser and Aguayo to future contracts after the season. Both have upside, but neither has proven he is — or even can be — an NFL-caliber kicker. Re-signing a safe bet like Folk — who, as of late December, had no plans to retire — would be wise.
“There’s no inkling in me that wants to stop,” Folk said in Week 16. “I enjoy this. I enjoy the guys, I enjoy my teammates playing football. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy kicking. So I want to keep going, want to keep playing. … I still have a lot of leg in me.”
Previous free agent profiles: LG Joe Thuney, RB James White, DT Lawrence Guy, C David Andrews, CB Jason McCourty, RB Rex Burkhead, DT Adam Butler, DE Deatrich Wise, OL Jermaine Eluemunor, WR Damiere Byrd