Roberto Aguayo faces stiff test to keep Bucs' placekicker job

Roberto Aguayo, coming off a rookie season in which he had an NFL-worst 71 percent field-goal accuracy, made only 1 of 4 Tuesday on the narrow goalposts at One Buc Place as he begins his battle to keep his job. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
Roberto Aguayo, coming off a rookie season in which he had an NFL-worst 71 percent field-goal accuracy, made only 1 of 4 Tuesday on the narrow goalposts at One Buc Place as he begins his battle to keep his job.LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published May 28 2017

TAMPA — The wind is never going to be at Roberto Aguayo's back when he lines up for a field goal or extra point this offseason in his quest to remain the Bucs' kicker.

Quite frankly, short of putting everything through the uprights, it's hard to imagine what Aguayo will have to do to keep his job.

Aguayo, 23, suffered through a disappointing rookie season, and the scrutiny reached the front offices at One Buc Place.

General manager Jason Licht was vilified for his decision to trade up into the second round to select the Florida State kicker. Then Aguayo did nothing to ease the pressure by making an NFL-worst 71 percent (22-of-31) of his field goals, with a long of only 43 yards.

To their credit, the Bucs are willing to lose the draft equity they have in Aguayo, and they demonstrated that by signing Jets free agent Nick Folk while guaranteeing him $750,000.

It's still very early, with offseason workouts, training camp and preseason games to go in the kick-a-thon. But if the two practices that were open to the media last week are any indication, Aguayo might be the guy Hard Knocks cameras follow into the parking lot as he packs up whatever may be left of his career.

Aguayo made 1 of 4 field-goals Tuesday on the narrow goalposts (8½ feet wide instead of the regulation 18½ feet), then connected on 4 of 5 from 35-40 yards on the regulation-sized uprights Thursday. Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Folk was 9-for-9 from the same distance.

"The competition has definitely started. I know everybody feels it," coach Dirk Koetter said. "There's a little tension when we're going through that. That's a good thing. That's a good thing. This is pro football, there's supposed to be competition."

This is not to suggest the Bucs won't give Aguayo every opportunity to restore their faith in his toe. The Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski, also out of FSU, was worse as a rookie, making 22 of 32 field goals (68.8 percent) in 2000. Seventeen years later he's a career 80.4 percent kicker.

If Aguayo rediscovers the consistency he was known for with the Seminoles, the Bucs might have their kicker for a decade. That was the plan. But if the inaccuracy doesn't scare you, consider he didn't demonstrate much range, either. Aguayo was 4-of-11 on field goals of 40 yards or longer. (Janikowski, as a rookie, was 9-of-18 but 8-of-14 between 40 and 49.)

Aguayo will have until the final preseason game to prove himself. For one thing, Folk could get hurt. Two years ago, he went on injured reserve with a quadriceps strain.

What you have to wonder is, if at the end of preseason they both are even, who's leaving? Moves like the signing of Jets free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to provide a quality backup tell you the Bucs know they have a good team and what's at stake.

A year ago, a similar battle was waged by incumbent punter Jacob Schum and Jaguars free agent Bryan Anger. But it didn't have nearly the same interest or intrigue. Anger was clearly better and won the job and eventually a contract extension.

"You know, last year when we had the punter competition, I was kind of nervous about that," Koetter said. "Just like you said, is it going to come down to one punt? But just as time went on, even though it was a close competition, it did sort of work itself out.

"But you know, when you think about how many kicks a guy gets in a year, really the difference between an 85 percent kicker and 75 percent over the course of a season is probably a couple kicks. So they all matter."

Even if Aguayo kicks well in training camp and the preseason, you have to wonder: When Koetter goes to bed Sept. 9 in Miami on the eve of the season opener, will he really be confident that 2017 will be different?

The head wind is just starting to blow.

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