In a move fraught with irony on any number of fronts, the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history is about to be replaced by one of the most clutch placement specialists in the game.
Unrestricted free agent Adam Vinatieri, who provided the winning field goals in two of the New England Patriots' three Super Bowl victories, has reached a contract agreement in principle with the Indianapolis Colts, ESPN.com has learned.
Complete terms of the contract were not immediately available, but league sources told ESPN.com that the multiyear deal includes a signing bonus of $3.5 million and that it averages $2.5 million over the first three years of the contract.
There remains some detail work still to be done on the contract, but sources said that it could be completed by late Tuesday night.
Vinatieri played the 2005 season for the Patriots under the one-year qualifying offer for a kicker, in his case $2.6 million-plus. The Pats opted not designate Vinatieri as a franchise player for a second consecutive season, because it would have cost them more than $3 million.
That decision could end up costing New England far more, since Vinatieri will be difficult to replace, both on and off the field.
Vinatieri, whose performance under fire had come to be symbolic of the Patriots' excellence under coach Bill Belichick, and whose departure will be a significant blow to New England, will replace longtime Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt. Though most recently remembered for his last-second miss against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a divisional-round playoff defeat two months ago, a 46-yard attempt that would have sent that game into overtime, Vanderjagt is the most accurate field goal kicker in league history.
But Vinatieri has become famous, and nearly iconic in New England, for converting such clutch kicks over the course of his 10-year career. And at age 33, he might become even better, given that he will be kicking much of the time in a domed stadium now, after a career often spent in blustery conditions.
Notable, of course, in Vinatieri's move to Indianapolis is that the Colts and Patriots have been rivals for the last several seasons.
In 10 seasons, Vinatieri has connected on 263 of 321 field goal tries and 367 of 374 extra point attempts. He has scored 100 points or more in all 10 seasons, with a career best 141 points in 2004. In 2005, he had 100 points, converting 20 of 25 field goals and 40 of 41 extra points. Vinatieri passed the legendary Gino Cappellitti last season as the leading scorer in New England franchise history.
Vinatieri has 19 game-winning field goals in his career, including two in Super Bowl victories. His 48-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Patriots to a 20-17 win over St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, his 41-yarder with four seconds remaining nudged the Pats past Carolina, 32-29.
There was some speculation Tuesday night that the Patriots might consider Vanderjagt as a replacement for Vinatieri, but those rumors were unsubstantiated. The loss of Vinatieri, coupled with the exit of 12-year veteran linebacker Willie McGinest last week will leave some leadership void with the Patriots, because the two players were so tied to the team and its persona.
The deal was shocking, not only for its obvious implications, but also for the timing. There were no hints before Tuesday afternoon that the Colts were interested in Vinatieri, who visited last week with Green Bay officials, but left without a contract. The consensus was that Vinatieri, who was said to be disappointed by the five-year, $10 million contract that former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell signed with Minnesota last week, because it did not drive up the market, might wait a while before deciding his future.
The consensus around the league also was that Indianapolis might have to settle for a young, lesser-known kicker to supplant Vanderjagt.
Indianapolis last week re-signed journeyman kicker Jose Cortez, who was with the Colts at the end of the 2005 season as a kickoff specialist, for insurance.
There was never any chance that Vanderjagt, who was involved in a well-publicized spat with quarterback Peyton Manning a few years ago, would return in 2006. The eight-year veteran, as talented as he is, was never a favorite of Indianapolis management, and everyone understood he would move on at the end of the 2005 campaign.
Vanderjagt, 34, has converted 217 of 248 field goals, for a league-record 87.5-percent success rate. The former West Virginia star, who began his career in the CFL, has also made 344 of 346 extra points.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.