TAMPA, Fla. — A week ago today, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter called kicker Roberto Aguayo “lights out.” Aguayo had made 10-of-10 field goals, and Koetter joked, “Whatever he ate for breakfast, he better eat it every day.”
The Bucs couldn’t afford any more of a circus with this. Not when expectations for this team are higher than they’ve been in the last 10 years, and possibly prior to that. Not with Green Bay and New England on the schedule, or games against Detroit and Minnesota that could wind up being very close, or in what’s become a wide-open contest each year in the NFC South.
Last year was enough. They had to chalk this one up as a loss, eat his $428,000 in guaranteed money and move on.
It’s not as if they weren’t prepared for it. That’s why they sat Aguayo down at the end of the season and told him, “We’re bringing in competition.” The Bucs signed veteran Nick Folk to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with $750,000 guaranteed.
Give general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter credit for doing the right thing here. They saw what happened last year and had to prepare for a potential loss, before it was too late. Some teams hold onto players long after the writing’s on the wall.
Some might say that keeping Aguayo all of last season was the wrong move. Some would argue that it sent the wrong message to the team that, in a bottom-line business, performance standards are different depending on draft status and position. But you could also argue that players saw a team determined to honor a commitment to a struggling player, to help a “family” member.
The Bucs’ mistake in drafting Aguayo can’t be overlooked, however. In fact, it might go down as one of the biggest draft gaffes in NFL history. That doesn’t mean Licht is a poor GM — far from it, actually. He drafted Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Kwon Alexander, to name a few. He’s given the Bucs organization more stars in recent years and more reason to be excited than any general manager has since, well, possibly ever.
In one single draft class, he got four starters — that’s an insane feat. He also landed stars who should play an integral role in helping them compete for a playoff berth in Brent Grimes and DeSean Jackson, and he didn’t break the bank doing it.
But trading up into the second round to draft a kicker who already showed he was inaccurate at 40-plus yards? Regardless of all the awards and recognition he received in college and the big games he kicked in, that was not smart.
If Aguayo missed a kick in college, it was also no big deal because the team he played on was far superior to just about every team on the other side of the field. The Bucs are a team still figuring things out when it comes to converting in the red zone, which is why they’ve averaged 20-22 points per game over the last two years. They’re much more reliant on a kicker.
It also was not smart to cut veteran Connor Barth immediately after drafting Aguayo. Yes, the Bucs wanted to show they were “all-in” with Aguayo. They also wanted to give Barth a shot at landing a job elsewhere (which he did with the Bears). That may have been in Barth’s best interest, but not theirs.
But the NFL will always have a need for proven kickers, and whether Barth landed a new job in June or September wouldn’t have made that big of a difference.
What does make a difference, though? Games that are decided by three points or less, and sitting home vs. playing when it’s time for the playoffs.