TAMPA — Patrick Murray was watching a movie — appropriately enough titled Lone Survivor — when he got a call Friday from Bucs coach Lovie Smith informing him he had won the kicking job over reliable veteran Connor Barth.
"He informed me that I was the kicker and we are going to win a lot of football games this year," Murray said. "It was great to get that phone call."
The release of Barth ends his remarkable run of consistency with Tampa Bay after five seasons. He simply is the best in franchise history, an 84 percent career field-goal kicker and perfect on all 134 extra points.
Barth, 28, was scheduled to earn $2 million in base salary and $1.15 million in roster bonuses this year. He was attempting a comeback after missing 2013 when he tore the Achilles in his right kicking leg during a charity basketball game just a week before camp. Both kickers were 2-for-2 in field-goal attempts in the preseason.
Murray, 23, was among the first players signed after Smith was hired in January. Two weeks ago, Smith predicted Murray would have a job in the NFL but said he would have to score a knockout over Barth in training camp and preseason.
"There's no doubt that Connor Barth is one of the best kickers in this league and he will land somewhere," Murray said. "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.''
Barth was among 14 players cut on Friday, a list that included defensive end Larry English and tackle Jamon Meredith, in an effort to get down to the 53-man roster by 4 p.m. today.
An undrafted free agent from Fordham, Murray won the job based on his toughness and versatility. He was an All-America punter and kicker two years ago.
Murray was unable to secure an invitation to an NFL training camp in 2013. He went to rookie minicamp with the Bears last season and had two workouts with the Giants and Bucs before signing with Tampa Bay.
Still, he was a long shot against Barth, who tied for the NFL lead in field goals with 18 of 40 yards or longer in 2012. Smith made it clear that Murray would not start as an equal to Barth, who was given the team's franchise tag in 2012 before he agreed to a four-year, $13.2 million contract two months later.
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.
Barth thanked Bucs fans via Twitter. "Thanks to the bucs and all the fans and my teammates for the best 5 years of my life! It's been one hell of a ride."
At 5 feet 7, Murray is the shortest Buc. Coaches tried to simulate pressure situations in practice and Murray never flinched. "He pushed me just like I pushed him,'' he said of Barth. ''I'm excited for my opportunity."
Born in New Jersey, Murray has an interesting background. He learned to kick during 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 dropkick it through or below uprights situated above a soccer-style goal.
"Mental toughness is the key for a kicker," Murray said. "I thought I performed well in training camp and the preseason, and I'm very thankful to have won the job."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report. Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected]