The Falcons sent the majority of their fans into a whirlwind of confusion on Wednesday by announcing the release of their Pro-Bowl kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant took over the job in 2009 and made 250 of his 282 (88.7%) field goals during his ten-year career in Atlanta, including a countless number of clutch kicks that the mildest fans had a tough time watching all the way through. He will undoubtedly go down as the greatest kicker in Falcons franchise history, made 95.2% of his kicks last season, announced he wanted to return for another season, yet the Falcons decided to let him go
The organization’s reasoning behind the move isn’t too complicated: By cutting the soon to be 44-year old Bryant, they save about $3 million this year and $4 million in 2020. There also might be a compensatory 2019 pick involved. Atlanta has another kicker – Giorgio Tavecchio – who filled in for Bryant in the three games he was out with a hamstring injury, on their roster for far cheaper. In that limited time, Tavecchio was a perfect 5/5 on field goals and 8/8 on extra points. The injury concerns for Bryant as he continues to age are also a significant factor in the Falcons decision.
However, with all that said, the Falcons are going to regret letting Matt Bryant walk in 2019.
Despite being 43 years of age, Bryant showed few signs of slowing down last season. He made 20 of his 21 field goals in the thirteen games he played, and if there was a loss of leg power, he certainly did not show it. He was 4/5 from 50+ and had a long of 57. Of course, that long of 57 did result in a serious hamstring injury, but Bryant would return and made every kick the remainder of the season.
Going further than just the numbers on paper, there is something to be said for a kicker’s clutch gene. It doesn’t matter if you can make a 60+ yard field goal if you can’t make a field goal with the game on the line, and there wasn’t a kicker in the NFL better at making clutch kicks than Bryant.
Sure, Justin Tucker has been the best kicker in the game for a few years now, but I watched him miss an extra point to tie a game causing the Ravens to lose to the Saints last season. Matt Bryant would be caught dead before something like that happened. During his tenure in Atlanta, he was a freak in the clutch. It didn’t matter how far, what hash, how extreme the circumstances; if the game was on the line, Bryant was going to put it through the yellow pipes.
That’s the type of kicker the Falcons just let walk into free agency.
I understand the injury concerns that come with age, the money the Falcons save by releasing him, and the fact that Atlanta had to carry two kickers the entire season – which is far from ideal. But let’s also not act like Giorgio Tavecchio is a sure thing either. The guy only made 75% of his kicks in college from 2008-2011, bounced around for the next six years before finally getting the opportunity to kick for the Oakland Raiders in 2017. There, he only made 16 of his 21 field goal attempts (76.2%) before being waived last offseason. To put that in perspective, in Bryant’s worst full season with the Falcons, he went 33 for 38 on field goal attempts (86.2%).
Yes, Tavecchio was stellar last year for Atlanta – perfect even – but that was in a three-game sample size. Concluding that he will be just as successful in 2019 is far more ignorant than assuming Matt Bryant will stay healthy for sixteen games. The Falcons front office took a gamble by cutting Bryant, and if Tavecchio is responsible for even one of Atlanta’s losses next season, you can bet management won’t hear the end of how they gave up wins for a couple of million dollars.