Pats cut Gramatica; rookie to replace Vinatieri
The comeback attempt of kicker Martin Gramatica ended Wednesday when the New England Patriots released the six-year veteran, awarding the job as the successor to departed placement specialist Adam Vinatieri to rookie Stephen Gostkowski.
A fourth-round draft choice, and the 118th player selected overall in the 2006 draft, Gostkowski converted all four of his field goal attempts in the Patriots' first two preseason games, from 33, 24, 37 and 37 yards. The former University of Memphis star also did a nice job in handling the kick chores.
The New England staff gave Gostkowski all the kicks in last weekend's preseason game, after he and Gramatica split the duties in the exhibition opener, and the rookie responded well. After his performance on Saturday against Arizona, the coaches apparently saw no reason to further delay the decision on the kicker.
In succeeding Vinatieri, arguably the most clutch kicker in recent NFL history and a near-icon in the New England area before signing with Indianapolis as an unrestricted free agent this spring, Gostkowski will come under considerable scrutiny. But the Patriots are confident the youngster, who signed a four-year, $2.035 million contract that included a $425,000 signing bonus, can handle the pressure.
During his four college seasons, Gostkowski converted 70 of 92 field goal attempts and 159 of 165 extra point tries. The 70 field goals are the 14th most in Division I-A history and Gostowski's 369 points are the 13th most.
Gramatica, 30, connected on both his field goal attempts in preseason, from 26 and 30 yards. But the consensus was that the job was Gostkowski's to lose in camp, and he did not falter.
Plagued by injuries the past two seasons, Gramatica was out of the league entirely in 2005 and had not attempted a field goal in a regular-season game since November 2004. New England was hopeful he could return to his previous form, and Gramatica did seem healthy again in camp, and could draw some interest from other teams down the road.
The six-year veteran spent nearly all his NFL tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but was released late in 2004 and signed by Indianapolis to handle kickoff chores.
For his career, Gramatica has converted 137-of-179 field-goal attempts and all but two of his 183 extra-point tries for 592 points. But his career, which included an all-rookie team selection in 1999 and a Pro Bowl appearance in 2000, spiraled downward his last two seasons with the Bucs, and his inconsistency led to his 2004 release. Notable, too, is that Gramatica is just 43-for-71 on field-goal tries beyond 39 yards.
The former Kansas State star was a third-round choice in the '99 draft, twice scored more than 100 points for the Bucs, and still holds many of the franchise's placement records.
New England lost Vinatieri to Indianapolis as an unrestricted free agent. Vinatieri signed a five-year, $12 million contract that included a record signing bonus of $3.5 million.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.