TAMPA — Nick Folk, an incumbent for most of his career as an NFL kicker, finds himself the challenger with the Bucs, setting up one of the team's most interesting position battles in the fall.
"The way I look at it is if I take care of my business, whatever happens is going to happen," said Folk, 32, brought in as competition for second-year kicker Roberto Aguayo. "If I kick well, I'll be kicking here or somewhere else. I can't worry about things I can't control. If I kick the best I can, I'll be just fine."
Folk was cut by the Jets after seven seasons. His 81 percent success rate on field goals is the best in team history, and three of his four misses last season were blocked, two from beyond 50 yards. His consistency, with four straight years hitting 80 percent or better, is quite a foil to Aguayo, who finished last in the NFL as a rookie, converting only 71 percent after the Bucs traded up to take the former FSU standout in the second round.
"He's a good, young kid. He's really talented. I have my work cut out for me," Folk said. "I enjoy working with him. We both have our different routines, so we're not following each other around the building all the time. But when we're together, it's good conversation. It's fun to be around a young, talented kicker."
Folk can relate to a promising young kicker struggling. He made the Pro Bowl as a drafted rookie with the Cowboys in 2007, but two years later he hit just 64 percent of his field goals and was cut days before Christmas, landing with the Jets the next season.
After seven years with New York, Folk said he "wasn't super surprised" by his release. The salary cap played a role, as he was due to make $3 million this season. He said he still has a "great" relationship with players and others with the Jets, but at the same time he is well aware his old team comes to Tampa this season.
"It'll be fun playing them in November," he said. "Hopefully we'll get a chance to whup up on them a little bit."
The Bucs got Folk with a one-year, $1.75 million deal that included $750,000 guaranteed, which is more than Aguayo's total salary of $634,208. That major step shows the Bucs have prepared for the possibility of moving on from Aguayo, despite their high investment in the draft.
Folk has played long enough that he can boast a personal win against Bucs coach Dirk Koetter back in his college days. Koetter was head coach at Arizona State in 2004 when Folk was at Arizona, and he kicked the longest field goal of his college career, a 53-yarder, in a Wildcats win when their rivals were ranked No. 18.
"Nah. I've kind of let it go," he said, asked if that kick has come up in conversation with his new coach.
If the competition is close in August, Folk's body of work could give him an edge. He has 10 times as many field goals as Aguayo in the NFL, and while Aguayo didn't hit one longer than 43 yards last season, Folk has 23 of 50 yards or longer in his career, and seven winners with the Jets.
If Folk won the job, it would mark the sixth straight season the Bucs had a different kicker — from 2012-16, it has been Connor Barth, Rian Lindell, Pat Murray, Barth again and Aguayo. At no point in the franchise's first 36 years did the Bucs have a run like that longer than three years.
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It's only May, but every practice kick is being watched. At Tuesday's first organized team activities practice, using the narrower goalposts, Aguayo went 1-for-4, while Folk hit all of his kicks; both were better Thursday. Folk said it's most important for him to get used to a new snapper and holder — he has known snapper Garrison Sanborn as a division rival (Bills) for the past seven years; punter Bryan Anger trained with Folk's younger brother in California in high school, so they also go way back.
The battle between Folk and Aguayo will be one of the Bucs' biggest story lines in training camp, likely coming down to who can make their kicks in preseason games, but Folk said his focus isn't on his competition but himself.
"I'm always fairly motivated. I'm pretty self-motivated, so it's never based on competition or outside factors," he said. "You're your own worst critic, so I try to get better on my own, so when I'm here, it's easier."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.