When a player lasts multiple decades in one team’s uniform, fans inevitably become attached to them and the player becomes a legend.
Sometimes that legend sees their skills decline and a team is forced to make a tough decision: stick with the player who has served you well over the years despite slipping abilities or let them go and try and improve at the position? It can be one of the most difficult decisions a general manager makes.
Well, the Green Bay Packers are getting very close to being forced to make such a decision with kicker Mason Crosby.
While many think it’s time the Packers to reset at the position, there is a lot working in Crosby’s favor.
After yet another game where Crosby missed a relatively easy field goal (indoors nonetheless), Packers head coach Matt LaFleur came to his kicker’s defense, saying the team would “absolutely not” change kickers in-season.
On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. Crosby is the longest tenured Packer outside of Aaron Rodgers and cutting him more than halfway through the season would be a very unceremonious thing to do to the only Packer (again besides Rodgers) to play with Brett Favre.
Throw in how Rodgers made it clear during his infamous July press conference that he was dismayed at how the Packers previously handled the departure of vested veterans and you can see why a late-season change at kicker might not sit well. It would show to Rodgers the team didn’t listen to his words from this summer and could regenerate some tension between the quarterback and franchise.
Crosby’s own history also provides some hope he can kick this current slump. Crosby faced a challenge from Giorgio Tavecchio during training camp in 2013 after he completed just over 63% of his kicks the season prior. Crosby held off Tavecchio in camp and bounced back by making 89% of his field goals that year.
The following four seasons saw Crosby become one of the more consistent and reliable kickers, with his field goal percentage never dropping lower than 81% and not missing a single extra point in that time frame.
Crosby’s percentage dropped to 78.9% in 2017 which set the stage for 2018 and what would become known for the kicker as “The Lions Game.” The veteran had the most abysmal outing of his career, missing five kicks (four field goals and one extra point). Despite that game he actually improved on his 2017 numbers by making 81% of his kicks.
The Detroit game was still apparently concerning enough that the Packers brought in another challenger for Crosby in 2019 when they brought Sam Ficken in for training camp. Once again, Crosby repsonded to the threat as Ficken was released at the end of the preseason.
Crosby would then go on to have back-to-back career seasons. He made 91.7% of his kicks in 2019, which landed him a three-year contract extension. He further earned that deal with a perfect season a year ago while also attempting a career-low 16 field goals. Green Bay’s offense was super effective in the red zone (or gold zone as the team calls it), which minimized the need for Crosby to kick field goals.
This means, in theory, the Packers just need to challenge Crosby to get him out of his slump if history is any indication. The problem is they need every precious roster spot thanks to a myriad of injuries at various positions so any December kicking competition can be ruled out.
Speaking of December, that’s another thing working for Crosby: his experience kicking in the middle of a brutal Wisconsin winter. If the Packers did want to make a change, who else could they bring in that can quickly adapt to kicking on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field? Advantage: Crosby.
All this being said, the bell may be tolling for Crosby and this time he may not escape unscathed. It’s no secret Green Bay’s special teams have been struggling mightily and the field goal unit certainly has not been exempt.
Both LaFleur and special teams coach Maurice Drayton have spoken multiple times during the course of the season about having to clean up the field goal operation and they have done more than just say words.
They changed holders before the season with a trade for Corey Bojorquez and the release of JK Scott, and three weeks ago the Packers also made a change at long snapper when Hunter Bradley was released and Steven Wirtel was called up from the practice squad.
Yet the problems have continued and at some point the finger has to be pointed at the kicker. That time has arrived for Crosby. Misses cost them wins or, at the very least, chances at wins against both Minnesota and Kansas City. The blame has to fall on his lap at some point.
The Packers might be counting on him to snap out of yet another slump, but what if he doesn’t this time? With the team extremely beat up, there are going to be more close games and can you really trust Crosby at this point to come through in the clutch?
LaFleur and Drayton are in an unenviable position. Do you roll the dice, hoping a beloved player in the locker room can right the ship yet again, or do you bring in an outside player that might give you a better shot at winning and risk the ire of your all-world quarterback whose talent you are trying to retain?
In a perfect world, the Packers would light the league on fire in the final six games of the year and into the playoffs and not rely on kicker heroics. Unfortunately it isn’t a perfect world and Green Bay will very likely have to call on their kicker to win a game in the near future.
When that moment arrives, the Packers better hope they made the right decision. Otherwise, they might be kicking themselves all the way into the offseason.