Mason Crosby has given the Green Bay Packers plenty of reasons to re-sign him this offseason, but he won’t come cheap.
Crosby could become one of the NFL’s highest-paid kickers next year. His five-year, $14.75 million contract expired at season’s end and paid him an annual salary of $2.95 million, ranking 11th in the league. His upcoming contract could command $3.5 million, putting him in rare company.
New England’s Stephen Gostkowski, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski and Chicago’s Robbie Gould are the only NFL kickers that have reached the $3.5 million mark. Gostkowski leads the NFL with a $4.3 million average annual salary, according to Over the Cap. Janikowski earns an average of $3.775 million annually, while Gould’s average is $3.75 million.
Minnesota’s Blair Walsh ranks fourth with a $3.25 million average annual salary.
Crosby rebounded from a dismal 2012 season with three straight solid seasons. He has made 84 of 98 field goals (85.7 percent) over the past three years. His success has been most pronounced in January, no small feat for a kicker who calls Green Bay his NFL home.
In the Packers’ divisional playoff loss at Arizona, Crosby became the first kicker in NFL history to make 20 straight postseason field goals. Two days later, he pondered his future while clearing out his locker.
“Obviously, the season’s over,” Crosby said, “so I start focusing on what’s the next step here. But I’m hopeful that we’ll start having those conversations and I can be back here as a Packer.”
After extending defensive end Mike Daniels’ contract in December, the Packers will have to make free-agent decisions on 18 of their players this offseason. Crosby figures to be among their top priorities. He will be 32 next season, plenty of shelf life for a kicker.
The Packers likely will ask for a hometown discount, something they’ve done with veterans in the past. If Crosby leaves Green Bay, the market could push his annual average salary past the $3.5 million. The team is expected to enter the offseason roughly $25 million under the league’s 2016 cap.
Early cap estimates for the 2016 season are roughly $150 million, and the Packers’ current payroll stands at $131.1 million. The Packers will roll over $7.7 million in additional cap space.
Part of Crosby’s value is he’s had success in Green Bay, one of the toughest climates in the league for kickers. For a contender, Crosby’s clutch kicking in the postseason is also important.
Despite kicking in the playoffs every year (except 2008), Crosby hasn’t missed a postseason field goal since 2010. He had what could have been a game for the ages in last season’s NFC championship game loss, making all five field goals, including a 48-yard kick that forced overtime.
“You can find a guy that can kick the football through them steel poles,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said, “but how they're going to handle this environment? How they're going to handle pressure situations? That's something, particularly a young guy, you don't know until he's put in that situation.”
For a sixth-round pick, the Packers couldn’t have asked for more production than they’ve gotten from Crosby over the past nine seasons. His career is already stamped in the Packers' record book. Crosby’s 236 field goals is the most in franchise history. He has scored the most points with 1,145.
Crosby sits beside former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell with nine straight 100-point seasons. He already has surpassed Longwell in many categories. With another year, Crosby will distinguish himself as the Packers’ most successful kicker.
It seemed unlikely Crosby would have a chance to cement his legacy after a disastrous 2012 season he called the “low point” of his career. Crosby made only 21 of 33 field goals that season, a league-low 63.6 percent. The Packers restructured his contract in the offseason. His base salary dropped from $2.4 million to $800,000, though the Packers allowed Crosby to earn back every cent through roster bonuses and incentives.
In 2013, Crosby hit every benchmark to recover the lost money and hasn’t looked back since. He made 24 of 28 field goals this season (85.7 percent), including 4-of-5 from beyond 50 yards. He also made all 36 of his extra points, one of six kickers with a 100 percent conversion rate after the NFL made it a 33-yard try before the season.
“I’m thankful I was able to seize that opportunity after 2012,” Crosby said. “Low point in my career. Looked like a dire time. And being able to have the opportunity in the first place to come and earn that back, I’m thankful for that every day.
“At the same time, I do feel like I took that step and really earned everything that I did from that point on.”
While it’s never been his strength, Crosby also had one of his most successful years as a kickoff specialist in 2015. Opponents’ average starting field position was the 22.6-yard line following kickoffs, according to Pro Football Focus. It was the second-best average starting field position allowed in his career, one yard off his best in 2011.
His kickoffs also went further in 2015. Crosby had his second-most touchbacks with 47, and his average 68.6-yard length was more than two yards better than his previous career high. Opponents returned 46.2 percent of his kickoffs, the first time in his career fewer than 50 percent of his kickoffs were returned.
Of course, points matter most. Crosby’s experience could be a vital asset for a team with its sights on a Super Bowl trip next season. There’s no guarantees, but Crosby said he wants to stay in Green Bay.
“Nine years,” Crosby said. “This has become home for me and my family, and this is the team I want to play for, and I hope we can get something done so I can continue on and continue to be part of this organization. I don’t know if I can go anywhere else that there’s the opportunities that are presented here. The teammates, the friendships, the relationships I have in this locker room.
“It’s kind of weird to think about being anywhere else, but we’ll go through that process now that the season’s over and kind of start down that path.”
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2016 free agents
DT B.J. Raji
DT Letroy Guion
K Mason Crosby
WR James Jones
CB Casey Hayward
RB James Starks
OLB Mike Neal
OLB Nick Perry
TE Andrew Quarless
LS Brett Goode
S Sean Richardson
RT Don Barclay
G Lane Taylor*
OLB Andy Mulumba*
QB Scott Tolzien
FB John Kuhn
S Chris Banjo**
TE Justin Perillo**
* Restricted: Packers can match any offer from another team
** Exclusive rights: Packers must make contract off by league-imposed date or player becomes unrestricted free agent