INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 11, 2016) – More than a dozen Indianapolis Colts are floating toward that Land of Uncertainty virtually every player eventually visits.
It’s what Adam Vinatieri describes as “the 2 percent ugliness’’ of the NFL.
“I would say 98 percent of football is awesome,’’ he said. “It’s the other part you have to deal with. It’s the business side of it.”
It’s what looms for Vinatieri, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and so many others.
It’s when a player’s contract expires, leaving his future in limbo. The NFL’s new league year begins March 9, at which time existing contracts go poof!
Until then, Vinatieri and the others wonder whether the Colts have an interest in re-signing them, or have decided to move on.
“Whenever your contract’s up, it’s a negotiation thing,” Vinatieri said. “We’ll see if they want me back or if someone else wants me. We’ll keep going.”
That last comment was telling. Vinatieri is the NFL’s oldest active player at 43, and has every intention of celebrating his 44th birthday while still employed as a professional placekicker.
“I still feel good,” he said. “My body feels good. I feel like I still can contribute. I’m going to talk to my wife after the season’s over, but I have every intention of playing next year. Hopefully it’s here.”
Vinatieri’s 20-year career is evenly divided – 10 years with New England, 10 with in Indy. His wife, Valerie, undoubtedly can rattle off memories from her hubby’s playing days with the Patriots and the Colts. Their three children, though, essentially are Hoosiers. The oldest is 12.
“Kids don’t know anything other than Colts football,” Vinatieri said. “They don’t remember the (Patriots) stuff. They’ve seen pictures of me on the other team, but they don’t remember it. They don’t know anything about it. In a perfect world I’d love to play a few more years and finish my career here as a Colt and ride off into the sunset. That would be a dream come true.”
Vinatieri’s situation seems to be one of the least convoluted for owner Jim Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson.
The discussion should be brief and the decision a no-brainer: Pay the man.
And they probably will do precisely that.
We’re not talking about negotiating a deal that figures to make Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in NFL history. We’re not even debating the merits – and cost – of re-signing Freeman, Fleener, Allen or Hasselbeck.
Placekickers, even ones with a Hall of Fame-worthy resume, don’t command contracts that wreck a team’s salary-cap. According to Overthecap.com, 10 kickers had contracts in 2015 that averaged more than $3 million per season. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski’s was the most lucrative at $4.3 million.
Since being lured away from New England after the 2005 season, Vinatieri’s three contracts with the Colts have averaged $2.6 million per year.
“Kicker money never makes or breaks a team’s salary situation,” he said. “They say, ‘We want this guy so we don’t have to worry about that position later.’ One of the good things (and) bad things about being a kicker is our salaries are never going to be so high that if a team wants you, they can’t afford you.”
It comes down to whether the Colts believe it’s prudent to invest a fourth contract and another $2.5-3 million per year in a 43-year-old. Our guess: they will.
“Everybody talks about my age so much… my age, my age, my age,” Vinatieri said. “Let’s look at performance stats.”
Over the last two seasons, Vinatieri has converted a league-best 55-of-58 field-goal attempts (94.8 percent), including 7-of-8 on attempts of at least 50 yards. Gostkowski is next in line at 68-of-73 (93.2). Vinatieri had a personal-best streak of 35 made field goals from 2013-14, and finished ’15 by knocking down 25 in a row.
He’s still got it, and the Colts need it.
“You know, the funny thing is I’ve asked my kids, ‘What do you think? Should dad keep going?’” Vinatieri said. “All of them seem to think it’s pretty cool. The older they get, the more they understand that it’s a give-and-take with less family time during the season.
“But I think they’re okay with it. I get to spend the next couple of months really doing all that stuff, taking the kids to school and spending more time (together). I think we will be alright.”