Bucs cut PK Connor Barth, go with rookie Murray
The Bucs made a bold move Friday, electing to go with rookie place-kicker Patrick Murray over reliable veteran Connor Barth, who was released.
Murray, the undrafted free agent from Fordham, won the job based on his toughness and versality. He was an All-America punter and place-kicker at Fordham two years ago.
The release of Barth ends his remarkable run of consistency with the Bucs after six seasons. He's a career 84 percent career field goal kicker and perfect on all 134 point after attempts.
Barth was scheduled to make $2-million in base salary and $1.15-million in roster bonses this year. He was attempting to make a comeback with the Bucs after missing 2013 when he tore the Achilles on his right kicking leg in a charity basketball game just a week before camp. Both kickers were 2-for-2 in field goal atttempts in the preseason.
Murray, 23, was among the first players signed after Lovie Smith was hired in January. Two weeks ago, Smith predicted he would have a job in the NFL this year but said he would have to score a knockout over Barth in the preseason and training camp. Murray said he was watching a movie -- Lone Survivor -- when he revceived a call from Smith Friday informing him he had won the job.
"I got a phone call from coach Smith and he informed me that I was the kicker and we are going to win a lot of football games this year,'' Murray said. "It happened not that long ago. It was great to get that phone call.
"There's no doubt that Connor Barth is one of the best kickers in this league and he will land somewhere. He's been a true professional since the first day I met him and he's really helped me grow not only as a kicker but as a professional. He broke all of Martin Gramatica's records and I hope to do the same with his records and help the Bucs win a lot of football games. He pushed me just like I pushed him. I'm excited for my opportunity.''
Smith called releasing Barth a difficult decision. “We appreciate everything Connor has done for the Buccaneers on and off the field over these past five years, but this decision was based on the best interests of our team moving forward,” Smith said.
Murray came to the Bucs as a kicker and punter, having excelled at both at Fordham. He earned All-America honors as a punter in 2011 and as a kicker in 2012, bringing a strong leg and confident personality to training camp. A year ago, Murray was unable to secure an invitation to an NFL training camp. He went to rookie minicamp with the Bears last season and had two workouts with the Giants and Bucs before signing with Tampa Bay.Barth was given the Bucs' franchise tag in 2012 before he agreed to a four-year, $13.2-million contract two months later. The Bucs restructured that deal after Barth tore his Achilles and was placed on the non-football injury list.
At 5-foot-7, Murray is the shortest member of the football team. Coaches tried to simulate pressure situations in practice and Murray never flinched. In the end, it was a gut decision for the Bucs, who will need a consistent field goal kicker this season as they become more acquainted with Jeff Tedford's offense.
Born in New Jersey, Murray has an interesting background. He learned to kick on yearly summer vacations to his father Aidan's homeland of Ireland. His family has a long history in Gaelic football, a sport played on a huge field with no passing, the ball advanced by punting and trying to drop-kick it through or below uprights situated above a soccer-style goal. At Fordham, he earned All-America honors as a punter in 2011 and as a kicker in 2012, bringing a strong leg and confident personality to training camp.
Murray punted twice in the preseason opener at Jacksonville, averaging 45 yards, and he connected on a 33-yard extra point to tie the score in the fourth quarter. But he still was a longshot to win the job over Barth, who tied for the NFL lead in field goals with 18 of 40 yards or longer in 2012. Smith made it clear Murray could not be even with Barth.
"Patrick has to beat him out. He has to take the job from Connor," Smith said. "He has to knock the champion out.''