2005 free agency: Specialists

Special teams were the one area that didn't completely fall apart for the 49ers in 2004. And kicker Todd Peterson, rookie punter/holder Andy Lee and Pro Bowl long-snapper Brian Jennings were the glue that held together those units. The Niners would be just fine with that trio in those roles again in 2005, but that is not a given considering that Peterson is an unrestricted free agent who today becomes one of the top kickers available on the open market.

Peterson has expressed interest in returning to San Francisco, and the 49ers have expressed interest in keeping him. However, the team would like to see improvement in Peterson's weak kickoffs, and that might be the factor that sees the 49ers going in another direction at the position.

Strong-legged Jay Feely is available, and if the Niners make an offer to a veteran UFA other than Peterson, Feely ostensibly would be at the top of the list. The team has had negotiations with Peterson, but an agreement was not reached by Tuesday and he will test the open market.

The Niners have no need for a punter as Lee progressed in the role last year as a rookie and displayed potential to improve in the future. The same holds true for Jennings, who is one of the best in the business and has three years remaining on the richest deal ever for a NFL long-snapper that he signed in 2004.

Here's a breakdown of the top available kickers, punters and long-snappers scheduled to hit the open market today:

2005 Free-Agent Specialists
A listing of the specialists scheduled for NFL free agency in 2005. UFA=Unrestricted Free Agent; RFA=Restricted Free Agent; ERFA=Exclusive Rights Free Agent. For definitions of free-agent terms, click here. The "Best of the Bunch" is ranked by Scout.com's Lane Adkins. The "Rest of the Bunch" is sorted by free-agent type, then by most recent team. Comments provided for unrestricted free agents.
Player Free-Agent Type 2004 Team
Adam Vinatieri UFA Patriots
Comment: Had an amazing season, making 31-of-33 field goals while earning his second Pro Bowl berth. He was a mark of consistency and it carried over into the playoffs where he connected on all five of his tries. Has played a key in the Patriots' success and ranks fifth in NFL history in field goal accuracy. Not wanting to risk a loss of such a dependable player, the Pats have placed the franchise tag on him.
Jeff Reed RFA Steelers
Jay Feely UFA Falcons
Comment: Has evolved into one of the better kickers in the game. His motion is compact and powerful, his leg strength is better than average and has become more consistent with age. Tends to hook the ball when attempting field goals in excess of 50 yards, but has the ability to connect with the game on the line. Was 18 of 23 this past season. His 13 touchbacks on kickoffs rank him among the tops in the league, however.
Lawrence Tynes ERFA Chiefs
Steve Christie UFA Giants
Comment: Has been an above-average field-goal kicker for many years. With age, he has lost some of the depth on his kicks, as well as height and accuracy. Hit on 22 of 28 during the past season. Kickoff stats were not impressive.
Gary Anderson UFA Titans
Comment: Decided to hang it up after 23 seasons. Played his last NFL game and had his last field goal attempt blocked. The NFL's all-time leading scorer said he was disappointed at the ending, but had no regrets about playing one last season after the Titans lured him out of retirement. The oldest active player in the NFL connected on 17 of 22 field goals in 2004.
Billy Cundiff RFA Cowboys
Morten Andersen UFA Vikings
Comment: Continues to be a consistent performer at the professional level, but can no longer be counted on in the long game. Has been a good pressure kicker for years and can benefit a team looking for a relief kicker. At 44 years of age, with his power lacking, younger players will probably be favored over the 23-year veteran.
Todd Peterson UFA 49ers
Comment: Had a very good season, making 18 of 22 field-goal attempts, but struggled on kickoffs with only a 56-yard average with one touchback. He has battled inconsistency throughout his career. Despite possessing good mechanics, he tends to lose concentration in pressure situations. Still has the ability to be an adequate kicker and should be considered for any vacancy.
Martin Gramatica UFA Colts
Comment: Oft-injured and inconsistent as opposed to his early years, when he was considered one of the better kickers in the league. The depth and elevation of his kicks have disappeared, some of which can be attributed to confidence issues. Unless he can prove he is healthy and regains consistency, he is no longer a viable option for a team seeking a kicker.
Wade Richey UFA Ravens
Comment: Ravens may be ready to let him sign with another team. He struggled with consistency this season after proving to be one of the strongest kickoff performers in the league in 2003. Was deactivated in three of the last five games. He has a power leg and is a quick hitter. The ball explodes off his foot, gaining significant depth and height immediately in elevation. His career is marred by inconsistency, thus leaving him as a kickoff specialist over the past couple seasons.
Jose Cortez RFA Vikings
Player Free-Agent Type 2004 Team
Dave Zastudil RFA Ravens
Jason Baker UFA Broncos
Comment: Signed off waivers by the Denver Broncos in mid-season, replacing Micah Knorr. Punted 24 times for 931 yards (38.8 avg. / 31.6 net) in 10 games, including 10 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Showed a vast improvement for Denver over their previous punter while also filling in nicely as a placeholder. His audition with the Broncos could be considered slightly above average, but in the thin air of Invesco Field, a 31.6-yards-per-punt average is hardly impressive.
Kyle Richardson UFA Bengals
Comment: Sat out the 2004 season after being injured in the Bengals' first preseason game. Primarily known for good punting placement, Richardson set consecutive NFL records during the 1999 and 2000 seasons with 74 punts inside the 20-yard line. Despite the injury, his leg appears stronger than ever from a good year-long workout regimen. For the right price Richardson could be a good pickup for a team looking to bolster a decent special teams unit.
Matt McBriar ERFA Cowboys
Micah Knorr UFA Broncos
Comment: Knorr's biggest problem during his five-year career has been his inconsistency, especially in critical situations. Does have a very powerful leg, but lacks good direction. Punts inside the 20-yard line have decreased steadily over the past three seasons. Did not adjust to the altitude in Denver, either falling far short or sailing it through the end zone. Fairly reliable on kickoffs, but still had trouble finding the end zone.
Tom Rouen UFA Seahawks
Comment: In his second-year with Seattle, Rouen suffered a hamstring injury and finished the season after only four games, averaging 37.8 net yards per punt, including 10 punts inside the 20-yard line. His career stats of 36.3 net yards per punt are slightly overshadowed by spending nine years in the thin air of Denver. Although he's been above-average during his 16-year career, hamstring injuries may frighten off many teams from taking a risk on him.
Toby Gowin UFA Jets
Comment: Good prospect who's played with the Cowboys, Saints and Jets during his eight-year career. Twenty-two of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line during his 2004 season with New York. Has a career average of 41.2 gross and 35.0 net yards despite playing on teams with poor punt coverage.
Nick Harris UFA Lions
Comment: Posted a solid 40.0 / 33.0 average during his four-years with above-average hang time, yet is very inconsistent at critical times. Averages could have been better but has a tendency to shank a punt at the worst possible time. Needs more work on his direction, especially with the 20-yard line.
Bryan Barker UFA Packers
Comment: At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he fits the mold of a powerful punter, but heading into his 16th year in the league this 40-year-old journeyman is a huge risk for a team looking to develop special team stability over the next few seasons. During the 2004 season Baker finished 27th among the top 30 punters with a net average of 33.4 yards per punt. His career average of 35.6 net yards indicates that his best years may very well be behind him.
Derrick Frost ERFA Browns
Ken Walter UFA Seahawks
Comment: Eight-year veteran saw action in only six regular-season and one playoff game during the 2004 season, after Seahawks starter Tom Rouen was placed on IR. His playoff and Super Bowl experience provide a plus, but his 33.3 net yards per punt over the past three years boil down to a mid- to below-average pickup. Walter's numbers have steadily declined since his career best 38.1-yard net average during the 2001 season.
Player Free-Agent Type 2004 Team
Chris Massey RFA Rams
Dennis O'Sullivan RFA Texans
Ethan Albright UFA Redskins
Comment: Has a solid ten years experience as an above-average long snapper, though his velocity and cover skills have slowly begun to decline over the past few years with the Redskins. His age may fend off some teams from any long-term commitment, but in the short run he could be a nice addition to an experienced front line.
Joe Maese UFA Ravens
Comment: Is considered an excellent long snapper, which is the only position he currently plays for the Ravens. Has spent his entire career under head coach Brian Billick with two noticeable downsides, the first being injury and the second being lack of size. His size puts strong limitations on his ability to cover, but his excellent consistency is well worth the gamble if the Ravens do not re-sign the veteran.
Joe Zelenka UFA Jaguars
Comment: A very respectable long snapper who also served as the team's reserve tight end. A strong force to deal with in the center of the line, but lacks the downfield coverage speed of some of the other free-agent possibilities. Considered above-average in velocity and accuracy but rates high in dependability, having not missed a single game over the past five years.
Jody Littleton UFA Lions
Ken Amato RFA Titans
Kendall Gammon UFA Chiefs
Kevin Houser UFA Saints
Comment: Was recently signed to a five-year contract extension. Has been a steady and dependable snapper for kicks and punts the last five seasons.
Rob Davis UFA Packers
Comment: Considered to have an extremely strong zip on the ball, this nine-year veteran packs a solid frame, making him an above-average blocker after the snap. His weight prohibits him from any downfield coverage, but he thinks well on his feet and has the ability to close out the long returns. With a total of 12 years professional football experience under his belt, his choice of teams is limited to those looking for short-term fix.

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