The idea of your biggest problem during a season with no playoff appearance not being the offense or defense—but the kicker position instead—may seem unbelievable. But it is the reality that the Los Angeles Chargers face. They went through four kickers in 2017 (Younghoe Koo, Nick Novak, Travis Coons, and Nick Rose), and between those four kickers, the team percentage of field goals made was 66 percent — the lowest in the league by 5 percent. They were also the third worst team in kicking extra points. Two games were lost because of failed game-tying/winning kicks. The only other real problem all year was the run defense. The kicker struggles hurt the Chargers badly. They will need to settle that problem this off-season one way or another.
Solutions to the Los Angeles Chargers Kicker Problem
Keep Nick Rose
Rose is the only remaining kicker of last season’s bunch on the roster. Novak is set to be a free agent and the other two players were cut mid-season. (They have signed Roberto Aguayo to a futures contract, but a comeback for him seems unlikely.) Rose played in two games for the Chargers and his numbers did not inspire confidence. He went 1-for-3 on field goals and missed one extra point.
However, before he ended up on the Chargers, he was the replacement for an injured Dustin Hopkins for the Washington Redskins earlier in 2017. There, he went 10-for-11 in eight games, which included a 55-yarder. He did miss two extra points, but his numbers were still much better in Washington regardless. Given that he does have at least some promise, the Chargers might want to consider at least keeping him through the preseason and seeing how he does.
Bring Back Nick Novak
Novak is set to be a free agent this year. Out of all the kickers this year, he did arguably the best. He went 9-for-13 in seven games, which is not spectacular, but he did kick a game-winner against the Oakland Raiders during the season. Unlike the other kickers, he was only forced out by injury.
Novak has been in and out of the Chargers before. He was the kicker there from 2011-2014 until they decided to give Josh Lambo a go instead. He has never really been one of the league’s top kickers, but he’s been good enough to be a starter for the last seven years and not get cut mid-season. The only real concern is health and age. He is currently 36 and suffered an odd back injury last season. If he can stay healthy, he might not be a bad option for the Chargers to return to.
Sign Sebastian Janikowski
The Raiders surprisingly announced they would be parting ways with veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski this week, who spent the whole season on injured reserve due to an ailing back himself. He is currently 39, but he is still a future Hall of Famer who could still have a few good seasons left in the tank if his health does not remain a problem.
This would be an interesting prospect for Janikowski; to sign with a divisional rival and thus get to play against his former team twice. It would be quite the spectacle if Janikowski kicked a game-winning field goal against his old team while playing for a division rival. Much like Adam Vinatieri and Matt Bryant, Janikowski also has the potential to play into his 40s if that back does not remain an issue. Wherever he goes, the league will be watching.
Sign Caleb Sturgis
Caleb Sturgis was the unfortunate victim of an injury early this season, and now rookie kicker Jake Elliott appears to have taken the Philadelphia Eagles kicker job from him. Sturgis only played one game this season, but he went a perfect 3-for-3 in that game. He had never missed a game due to injury before 2017, so there is little reason to worry about his long-term health. He is still fairly young at 29 and has been getting better every year. In 2016 he went 35-for-41 and only missed one extra point.
If Janikowski ends up going somewhere else or retires, Sturgis might prove to be the next best option available on the free agent market (not including those who are practically guaranteed to re-sign with their current team). The Chargers would do well to give him a look during the offseason before someone else scoops him up.
Sign Cairo Santos
Cairo Santos is a fairly reliable kicker, but he was hampered by a groin injury most of the season. There is no guarantee that the Chicago Bears will re-sign him since Mike Nugent also did very well for them at the end of the season and they might also consider going after another option like Sturgis or Janikowski.
If he is available, Santos is another strong option for the Chargers to consider. He only played five games in 2017 but missed just one kick and no extra points during that time. Before that, he held firmly onto the Kansas City Chiefs kicker job for three years until he got injured and replaced. It is still possible the Bears might bring him back, but if they do not he will be another option.
The Chargers should probably not draft another rookie kicker. The results for doing that have been too mixed lately (particularly with Koo). More importantly, this is a win-now team and they need a kicker with at least some good experience on his belt. The last thing they want to see is another missed game-winner which ultimately leads to them missing the playoffs — all because they put their faith in an unknown newbie. There are multiple options for them to choose which are all more likely to yield better results.
The smart move would still be to have a kicker competition, however. Rose is still on the roster and under contract. Since he is there, they might as well give him another chance in preseason. But they should still bring in someone else to compete against him, whether it’s Novak again or a new face like Janikowski or Sturgis. While it would be fair to assume somebody like Janikowski would win that competition easily, they still should not give up on Rose before the preseason starts. If he can play like he did when he was on the Redskins, he still might not be a bad choice. Regardless, the Chargers will want to tread carefully and make sure they get the right guy. They do not want to sit home in January again because of a missed easy game-winner during the season.