Bills strongly consider keeping two kickers
When the Buffalo Bills fiddled with the idea of keeping two kickers a couple years ago, the general manager needed to coax the head coach into it.
That won't be the case for their successors this year. Bills GM Doug Whaley and coach Doug Marrone are not only open to keeping two kickers, but they also might already be leaning that way.
"Distinct possibility, yes," Whaley told me recently. "I have no problem with that."
In 2012, GM Buddy Nix drafted John Potter in the seventh round to be a kickoff specialist. Chan Gailey required convincing to keep Potter on the opening-day roster. Then Potter's kickoffs got shorter in the regular season. The Bills cut him and had Rian Lindell handle a kicker's traditional workload.
Last year, the Bills drafted Dustin Hopkins in the sixth round and cut Lindell in training camp.
But Hopkins hurt his groin right before the season began and Dan Carpenter -- with his less-powerful but more-accurate leg -- had one of the greatest seasons in Bills history.
The Bills last month re-signed Carpenter to a four-year contract worth $9.95 million. Hopkins still is on the roster.
More insight into the Bills' thinking came two weeks ago at the NFL owners meetings.
When it came time to decide some rules changes, the Bills actually voted against moving kickoffs from the 35- to the 40-yard line, an adjustment that would've given Carpenter a touchback leg.
"If Dustin can put the ball back there consistently, and if we can take that return play away," Marrone said, "and Dan's not at that higher percentage, then I have no problem with" keeping two kickers.
Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano led the NFL with touchbacks on 79 percent of his kickoffs. Carpenter ranked 28th at 41 percent. Potter, picked up by Washington, recorded touchbacks 57 percent of the time.
Why are touchbacks important enough to take up another player's spot on the roster?
"That's a whole unit that you don't have to worry about now," Whaley said. "We'll have only three: kick return, punt and punt return.
"Would you like to have one guy that can do both? No doubt about it. But this is a situation where if it makes our team better, we're going to do it."
Whaley said he, Marrone and special-teams coach Danny Crossman would make the decision collectively.
"Is keeping Dustin Hopkins better for the team that keeping an extra receiver, an extra DB?" Whaley said. "You juggle that."