Why The Ravens Kicker Is Wildly Underpaid

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker made a 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds left to beat the Detroit Lions 18-16 on Monday night.

It’s the sixth time in the last two years that Tucker has made a field goal in the final two minutes with his team down by three or less. He has never missed in that situation.

Tucker leads the league in field goals made and attempted this year. In his career he’s 65 for 70 on field goal attempts, including 10 for 11 from 50+ yards. Kickers are typically around 65% from that distance.

For a Ravens team that plays an exceptional number of close games (they’ve played 24 games decided by three points or less in the last two years), Tucker is an incredibly valuable asset.

Yet he only makes $US480,000 a year. The 10 highest-paid kickers in the league all make above $US2 million. Sebastian Janikowski, who has missed more kicks this year (8) than Tucker has in his career (5), is getting paid $US5.3 million this year.

Based on our maths (below), Tucker is actually worth around $US4 million per year.

But before we get into that, take a look at Tucker’s stats against the NFL average:

Overall (in 2013):

  • Tucker: 94.6%
  • NFL average: 86.1%

40-49 yard attempts (in 2013):

  • Tucker: 90.1%
  • NFL average: 82.7%

50+ yard attempts (in 2013):

  • Tucker: 85.7%
  • NFL average: 65.2%

Clutch attempts, since 2012 (less than two minutes remaining and his team is down by 3 or less):

  • Tucker: 100% (6 of 6)
  • NFL average: 79.7%

The average NFL field goal attempt is worth 2.58 points. When Tucker is kicking, it’s 2.84. So he’s worth about 0.26 points per attempt above the average.

When you run the maths (37 field goal attempts x 0.26 points per attempt added), Tucker has been worth ~9.62 points above the average NFL kicker through the first 14 games of the 2013 season. Over the course of a 16-game season, he’s worth about 0.3 expected wins to the Ravens, according to the NFL Pythagorean win formula.

That doesn’t sound like a lot.

But if the Ravens win nine games this year, Tucker (with 0.3 wins added) would be responsible for roughly 3.3% of his team’s win total.

If you want to translate that into money, 3.3% of Baltimore’s ~$123 million salary cap works out to $US4.05 million — nearly 10 times what Tucker is making.

The kicker position has as much turnover as any other NFL position. Guys get hot for a year, then fade. And has Peter King noted earlier this year, it has become really easy to find a kicker who’s going to make pretty much everything from 45 yards or closer. So it’d be too much of a stretch to say that all kickers are underpaid.

But there is an elite tier of kickers that are worth more than the rest. Tucker makes more long kicks, with greater consistency, than anyone else.

Pay the man.

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