INDIANAPOLIS – The symmetry is separated by 18 years, but undeniable.
During the 2006 offseason, the Indianapolis Colts secured positional security by giving Adam Vinatieri financial security. They made the long-time New England Patriot the highest-paid kicker in NFL history with a five-year, $12 million free-agent contract.
In March, they did it again.
This time, Matt Gay was the recipient of the Colts making a move aimed at long-term stability at an unforgiving position. He signed a four-year, $22.5 million contract that included $13 million in guarantees. It’s the second-highest per-year average for a kicker ($5.65 million) in league history, trailing only Baltimore’s Justin Tucker ($6 million).
The Colts’ decision was sound and driven by too many seasons of inconsistent kicking – you know, points left on the field – even though Chase McLaughlin stemmed the decline in 2022. The Westfield resident replaced Rodrigo Blankenship following Blankenship’s costly miss in the season-opening tie at Houston and converted 30-of-36 field-goal attempts (83.3%), including a franchise-record nine of at least 50 yards.
The three previous seasons, Colts’ kickers were among the league’s least accurate: 80.6%.
“It’s big,’’ first-year head coach Shane Steichen said. “Anytime you have a really good kicker that’s done it at a high level the last couple of years, that helps. The league is all about scoring points. However you need to do that – touchdowns, field goals – to get points on the board is critical.
“So, to have a kicker like Gay is huge.’’
Steichen benefitted from reliable kicking the past two seasons in Philadelphia. Jake Elliott generally cleaned up whenever the Eagles offense stalled: 54-of-60 (90%), including the playoffs. He was 8-of-9 on 50-plus yard attempts.
Listen to first-year special teams coach Brian Mason.
“We’ve got a kicker who’s been over 90% the last two years,’’ he said. “Done it at a really high level, done it in the playoffs, done it in the Super Bowl.’’
Bill Polian was responsible when the Colts transitioned from Mike Vanderjagt to Vinatieri during the 2006 offseason. Vanderjagt’s epic miss against Pittsburgh in the ’05 playoffs essentially sealed his fate with the franchise.
Vinatieri provided Hall of Fame-level productivity and consistency until his drastic drop-off in 2019.
Now, the Colts are seeking similar results from Gay. They’re clearly paying him to remain a cut above.
Over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, he’s the league’s most accurate kicker – 60-of-64, 93.8% – among players with at least 20 attempts each season. The Las Vegas Raiders’ Daniel Carlson (92.5%) and Tucker (90%) follow.
Gay blends power with precision. He was 12-of-15 on 50-plus yard attempts in three seasons with the Rams.
“We think he can be a real weapon,’’ Chris Ballard told reporters at the owners’ meetings in March.
While the enormity in the investment in a kicker drew a measure of criticism in March, it’s relatively minor in the larger view of the salary cap, especially if Gay performs up to expectations. He’ll count $3.08 million against the 2023 cap, No. 15 among Colts.
This is Gay’s second stint with the Colts.
After spending his 2019 rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 27-of-35 on field-goal attempts, 43-of-48 on PATs – he was signed to the Colts’ practice squad in September 2020, released and re-signed. In November, the Rams signed him off the practice squad to their active roster for the final seven games.
“I loved my time here,’’ Gay said. “It was an important time for my career to come back here after Tampa and be on the practice squad where I could just reset and kind of mentally get back to me and who I wanted to be and figure out this process.
“My time in Indy was really special for me. I connected with it. I loved it here. Obviously then got picked up and went to the Rams. Was able to go do some cool things with the Rams.’’
The highlight was 2021 when the Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in Super Bowl LVI. Gay earned a Pro Bowl berth by converting 32-of-34 field goals and 48-of-49 PATs, then went 8-of-10 in the postseason run. That included game-deciding kicks in the NFC Divisional round against Tampa Bay and the conference championship against San Francisco.
His development from an inconsistent rookie with the Bucs to a Super Bowl-winning kicker with the Rams has been a matter of nurturing confidence.
“People tell you, ‘Hey, you can do this, and you are good,’’’ Gay said. “To know you can do it and then see a couple go through the uprights, that confidence just starts to build and build and build.
“I think we see a lot of times with guys who start out, maybe it’s not a good fit and then they get to another team and they take off a little bit. I think it’s just finding the right fit, the right organization for people and for kickers especially.’’
Gay believes Indy is the right place at the right time.
One of the prevailing reasons? Financial security. Prior to his free-agent deal with the Colts – again, $13 million is guaranteed – Gay had earned less than $5 million in four years.
“I think a few things went into it,’’ he said of relocating to Indy. “Most important was for me and my family; my two boys, my wife.
“Obviously, the contract is the contract. You want to take care of your family. I would be lying if I didn’t say that wasn’t a factor in the decision. Me and my wife felt really good about being able to raise our family here and bringing our boys here.
“Then it just felt right.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.