Drawn and quartered. That’s what happened to Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby’s base salary following one of the most bizarre competitions in training camp history.
After seeing Giorgio Tavecchio released despite outkicking Mason through training camp, then watching bubble-gum Zach Ramierez melt down in his only opportunity, Crosby “won” his job back. But Packers management decided to essentially punish Crosby for his poor season last year and unconvincing training camp by slicing his base pay from $2.4M to just $800,000 this year.
Hey, if you’re not going to get better, we’re just going to pay you less to do it. Forget bringing in anyone who could actually do better.
The carrot for Crosby (who has made his case as perhaps the most insecure kicker in Packer history) is that he can earn almost all of his previously contracted income back, if he just matches his 2011 banner season, when he kicked 85.7% of his field goal attempts. That’s supposed to be impressive, because Crosby has never kicked better than 79% in any of his other seasons in the NFL.
I’m sure Packers management and his special teams coaches (who have made their case as perhaps the most co-dependent enablers in Packer history) thought this was raising the bar for Crosby. After all, that 85% mark looks pretty darn good, doesn’t it?
A closer look at the statistics from 2011 reveals some interesting details, however. While 85.7% is “Crosby-good”, it is still pretty pedestrian for an NFL kicker nowadays. In fact, Crosby only ranked 11th overall in the league in field goal percentage that year, with four kickers hitting better than 90%.
Perhaps that is splitting hairs; but then, field goal percentage was the metric chosen for Crosby to get his money back.
But further analysis shows some unusual skewing of even those numbers. In a record-breaking offensive performance, the Packers put up a lot of points, but Crosby only attempted 28 field goals that year (20th overall)– the least number of attempts Crosby has had in any season of his career.
Furthermore, he also had career lows in his number of attempts between 40-49 yards (5) and beyond 50 yards (3). Those paltry eight attempts for the entire season from outside of 40 yards ranked 25th in the league that year.
So, you say, “He didn’t have as many opportunities to kick that year! Why hold that against him?” Because he only made five of those attempts, good for only 62.5% from beyond 40 yards in the season we are using as the benchmark.
Crosby’s slightly inflated field goal percentage in 2011 originated from between 30-39 yards, where he kicked an NFL-best 14 field goals out of an NFL-best 14 attempts. Kicking thirty-something yard field goals are something that pretty much a foregone conclusion for NFL kickers, and multimillion dollar extensions are earned from longer distances.
So, essentially, the Packers brass can help out Crosby by passing up longer field goals and only giving him safe, short opportunities to keep his percentage (and confidence) up. In a completely unrelated story, when Crosby hit the wall last season and melted down, head coach Mike McCarthy started passing up long field goal attempts and going for it on fourth down or punting.
Yet, we released a young, promising kicker because we were afraid that he wouldn’t be able to kick long field goals in cold weather. What’s the difference if you’re not trusting your kicker to kick the long field goals anyway?
In this case, the difference was that one salary was about ten times the amount of the other, and the Packers took care of that detail by renegotiating Crosby’s contract.
By saving themselves some coin, the Packers have reduced the risk to themselves if they finally send Crosby packing during another one of his patented slumps. But by giving him the incentive to match his 2011 field goal percentage, they didn’t really raise the bar for him.
In fact, if they repeat his one-attempt-every-other-game-outside-of-forty-yards template of 2011, he might actually get his money back.
But only because the Packers lowered the bar for his success.
C.D. Angeli is a lifelong Packer fan and feature writer at CheeseheadTV. He is the co-host of the weekly Packers podcast Cheesehead Radio and is the good cop running PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.