Jets Should Take a Flyer on High-Upside Kicker

Zane Gonzalez

Getty Free agent kicker Zane Gonzalez drills a field goal on September 27, 2020.

The New York Jets kicking situation has been an absolute mess since letting 2018 Pro Bowler Jason Myers walk after one season in green and white.

It’s one of the few positions that have not really improved under Joe Douglas’ tenure, with Sam Ficken and undrafted free agent Chris Naggar as the two kickers on the current roster.

As noted best by Jets beat reporter Connor Hughes of The Athletic, “this is a problem for the Jets.” The only real kicking update from the spring was that Ficken and Naggar went a combined 3-for-7 in a kicking “gauntlet” on June 10.

In his article, Hughes elaborates that the rookie went 3-for-5 in total and Ficken ended up going 1-for-3, so the updated post-tweet line stands at 4-for-8 — are you not entertained?

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Why Not Take a Chance?

I wouldn’t give up on Naggar just yet, being that he’s a rookie that could end up on the practice squad anyway, but what has Ficken done to deserve a training camp spot?

The former Los Angeles Rams washout has a career 72.9 field goal percentage and he’s approaching his age-29 campaign.

Technically, he’s coming off his best NFL season, and that still included two missed field goals and three missed extra points on just 30 total kicking attempts. Trust me, you don’t want to see him at his worst.

Douglas is said to prefer a younger upside kicker with a strong leg, many traits that Naggar embodies out of SMU.

Let the rookie compete with a veteran that has upside potential of his own. My suggestion is former Arizona Cardinal Zane Gonzalez.

A decent kicking prospect out of Arizona State, Gonzalez was actually drafted by the Cleveland Browns in round seven of the 2017 NFL draft.

After one full season with the Browns and a rough start to year two, Cleveland decided to go a different direction and Gonzalez latched on with Arizona at age 23.

He enjoyed a career revitalization with the Cardinals, which peaked in 2019 when he converted 88.6% of field goals and 97.1% of extra points on 70 total attempts! That’s a lot of made kicks.

Gonzalez is also pretty good from deep, hitting a 54-yard field goal or higher in every season, with a 56-yard best in 2020.

Last season, the Cardinals kicker regressed while dealing with a back injury throughout. Arizona elected to cut him after two and a half seasons, but their loss could be our gain. Entering his age-26 campaign, why not take a chance on a kicker with a high ceiling like Gonzalez?

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Gonzalez vs. Ficken

I rarely disagree with Douglas, but his loyalty to Ficken is unfathomable to me. Gonzalez isn’t a model of consistency either, but in a head-to-head with the Jets starter, he looks like a perennial Pro Bowler.

Here are some stats to help prove my case.

Stat Sam Ficken (age 29) Zane Gonzalez (age 26)
Career FG & PAT % FG- 72.9%, PAT- 87.5% FG- 78.0%, PAT- 94.6%
Career 50+ Yard % 44.4% (4-for-9) 61.5% (8-for-13)
Career Long 54 yards 56 yards
Experience 84 total kicks converted 176 total kicks converted

Is Gonzalez the perfect kicker? Not by a long shot, but the perfect kicking option does not exist on the free-agent market at this stage of the process.

If the Jets don’t act soon, someone else may decide for them. Gonzalez tried out with the Carolina Panthers during their minicamp and Matt Rhule has a much better kicker than New York in Joey Slye.

It’s probably safe to say that Carolina is sticking with Slye for now since no news has dropped beyond that, but he’s a player that’s on other teams’ radar.

While there’s no guarantee he’ll succeed on the east coast, being that his best days from college and the NFL were both in Arizona, Gonzalez is at least worth a camp tryout.

There’s always a chance Douglas tries to snag his kicker off waivers after the preseason anyway, which comes with its own type of danger — remember Kaare Vedvik?

Gonzalez is a much more measured gamble. He can’t be much worse than Ficken and the upside could be worth betting on.

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