A year ago at this time, Chris Boswell was coming off such a good season the Steelers decided to make him one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL.
A year later, Boswell is on the cusp of being replaced if he can't get his act together.
That's how quickly things can turn in the NFL for a placekicker, the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately job.
But Boswell went from being one of the best kickers in the NFL, making 89.5 percent of his field goals in his first three seasons, to missing seven out of 20 attempts in 2018. It was definitely not what the Steelers had in mind when they gave him a four-year, $16.8-million contract that included $7.3 million in guaranteed money.
His misses were a big part of the Steelers going 9-6-1 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
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"If I had to point to a couple of things that I think were problems that may have cost us that opportunity, I think No. 1 was a lack of even an average kicking game," team president Art Rooney II said at the end of the season. "(For) somewhat inexplicable reasons our kicker went from one of the best in the league to one of the worse in the league, and so games that we won close last year, we didn’t win close this year."
The Steelers are hopeful -- and even confident -- Boswell has gotten his issues worked out. They've got more that 4 million reasons to feel that way. Boswell will count $4.2 million against the team's salary cap in 2019.
Now that we're past June 1, even if the Steelers release Boswell to go with another kicker, he would cost the team $1.2 million against this year's salary cap, with an additional $3.6 million being pushed to their 2020 cap as dead money according to Spotrac.com.
That's a big hit to take considering the Steelers also would have to sign a replacement.
"Everybody has got to convince them," Boswell said of the Steelers. "We’re day-to-day, week-to-week, game-to-game. No one is locked in."
The Steelers do have competition in camp for Boswell in rookie Matthew Wright. But Wright made just 77.5 percent of his kicks at Central Florida, though he did hit 12-of-14 kicks last year.
As much as he is actual competition in the form of another kicker in camp, it's more likely that if Boswell isn't fixed, the Steelers' 2019 placekicker is currently on some other team's roster.
But that's definitely Plan B. The Steelers' main plan is for Boswell to not only get himself fixed in the short term, but the future, as well. They'd like nothing more than for Boswell to play out his contract.
"It’s me versus me," Boswell said. "As long as I can conquer that, I should be pretty good."
Boswell spent the final week of the 2018 season on injured reserve because of a groin injury. He wouldn't blame an injury for his troubles last season. And, in fact, he had perhaps his best game in New Orleans after leaving the field in warmups after the issue flared up.
"That’s nothing to be brought up," he said. "I was there to do a job and that’s all it comes down to."
Doing it and doing it correctly is obvious. Boswell and special teams coordinator Danny Smith went over every kick from 2018, comparing them to his previous seasons.
Nobody would talk about any differences, but obviously there were issues.
And they began displaying themselves early in the season, starting with a miss from 42 yards in the opener at Cleveland with less than two minutes remaining in overtime. The Steelers were fortunate to escape that game with a tie, but a make by Boswell would have given the Steelers a win -- and put them into the playoffs at the end of the season.
The same could be said of two misses in Oakland. Or a missed PAT against the Chargers. You get the idea.
Smith said he's seen instances of other good kickers having a bad year and then bouncing back. And, in fact, it doesn't take much digging to see such examples.
Former Steelers kicker Gary Anderson, third on the league's all-time scoring list, missed a career-high 11 field goals in 1999. In 2000, he missed just one. Adam Vinatieri, the league's all-time leading scorer, missed nine field goals in 2003. In 2004, he made 31-of-33 kicks.
“We’ve worked hard at it together," Smith said of Boswell. "I’ve seen a great deal of improvement. I’m in the mindset that he’s got to be the guy we had two years ago. Right now, it looks like that’s what we’ve got. We’ll see when we get into the team settings.”
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