Buccaneer General Manager Bruce Allen said Martin Gramatica worked diligently to pull out of his slump
Jay Taylor is in and Martin Gramatica is out in Tampa, and for the moment, Gramatica is without a spot in the NFL.
Not even the team that released Gramatica believes he will be out of work for long.
"I don't think there's any doubt – more than likely next year, maybe at the end part of this season – that he is going to kick in the NFL," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen. "He has demonstrated the talent and the gumption to kick in this very competitive league."
Allen announced the Buccaneers' release of the popular sixth-year veteran on Tuesday afternoon, calling it an 'emotional move for the franchise.' It is also a unique move on one level, releasing a player who you feel certain will eventually be successful again. But NFL kickers rarely spend their entire career with a single team, and the Bucs had invested nearly two seasons in trying to get Gramatica back to his Pro Bowl form.
Gramatica's past success, and the fact that he is only 29 years old and obviously still possessed of kicking talent, made the decision to stick with the former Pro Bowler after a rough 2003 season an easy one for the Buccaneers.
"I think that's fair to say, that we had confidence in him this offseason after last year," said Allen. "But he earned that. He earned that by helping this team put that big rock on their fingers, the same way other players have earned the right to their positions based on prior performance. And in the hope that he would rebound. I firmly believe he is going to be a good kicker in this league at some point, and that could be five years from now, but he will be because he has the talent and has demonstrated that he can do it."
Gramatica also made the decision to keep him easier by working very hard to regain his form. Thus, his eventual release was a difficult, if necessary, pill for the Bucs to swallow.
"It's probably very frustrating to him," said Allen. "No one feels the pain more than him. And he's worked. I've seen guys drop off but it's because they quit working at a high level. But he worked at a higher level trying to rebound.
"He did everything he could and we had hoped it would work out. This last game, he didn't cost us the game. But it was time to make a change. We need to try to make our kicks this week. We need to try something different because what we're doing isn't working."
Gramatica made the Pro Bowl in 2000 with an 82.4% success rate, and he basically matched that in 2002 with an 82.1% mark. The Bucs would like to return to that level of success, because most of their opponents are enjoying that advantage against them. Gramatica converted only 61.5% of his kicks in 2003 and was at 57.9% when he was released. The Bucs rank last in the NFL in field goal percentage.
"If you look at field goal percentages over the last several years, they have dramatically increased," said Allen. "The league average this year – the average – is 81%. That's a tough, tough, tough number to compete at. I think in sports only a goalie in hockey has to perfect his art at a higher rate."
And, again, Allen believes Gramatica will eventually return to that 80% plateau, and once again be known as one of the league's better kickers. In fact, Allen didn't rule out the possibility of Gramatica one day wearing a Buccaneer uniform again. By releasing him now rather than keeping him on the roster as a game-day inactive, the Bucs not only freed up an important roster spot but also allowed Gramatica to begin pursuing his return as quickly as possible.
"In discussions with him, we felt that it might be better to free him of his obligations right now," said Allen. "He'll be able to [rebound] at some point, and there's no doubt because of the way kickers' careers are. They last for dozens of years. I don't see Morten Andersen announcing any retirement soon. He could be a Buc again. It's the way he handles himself on and off the field that makes comfortable that, if it was right, he could come back at some point.
"He's a terrific person, as you all know, and I think he's just in a slump. He will come out of it."