Getting some kicks before camp
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Let's talk NFC South kickers for a bit because we probably will be talking about them a lot more once training camps get going.
There's the potential for three intriguing battles, so let's take a look at each. We'll leave Atlanta out because Jason Elam is probably as safe as any player on an NFC South roster aside from Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Steve Smith.
But it's not the same story elsewhere. Let's start in Tampa, where the Bucs could have the best battle of the kickers.
It was kind of a curious move in the offseason when the Bucs signed Mike Nugent to a $2.4 million contract for one year. That's huge money for a kicker, especially when you have an established one like Matt Bryant. But there's some solid logic behind this one.
Since Raheem Morris took over, the Bucs have made it clear they want as much competition as possible at every position. They've got it at kicker. Nugent missed almost all of last season with an injury, but he had three good years with the Jets before that. If he can return to his previous form, Nugent will provide a serious challenge to Bryant. If not, the big contract isn't that big a deal. The Bucs structured it so there would be only a minimal salary-cap hit if they release Nugent.
In New Orleans, the Saints have Garrett Hartley as the only kicker on the roster -- at the moment. Hartley was signed last October and gave the Saints some much-needed stability in the kicking game. The Saints are hoping that will continue, but Hartley only has half a season of NFL experience. If there are any signs of trouble, the Saints won't hesitate to consider other options at kicker.
Carolina has a unique situation in which John Kasay is the elder statesman of the team. Even in the cruel NFL world, Kasay probably goes out only when he decides to retire. Seriously, he's got that much credibility with owner Jerry Richardson, coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney. And Kasay's not ready to retire.
But that's where things get a little interesting. The Panthers carried kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd last year and there's no doubt he was a help when it came to field position. Lloyd also can kick field goals and extra points, but he's not going to beat out Kasay in those areas. The issue here is the roster spot. Can Fox once again afford to carry a kickoff specialist or would he consider letting punter Jason Baker, who has kicked off in the past, take on that role to get another player on the roster?