The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went through three different placekickers during the 2009 season, trying to find a player in which they could place their confidence. Out of that upheaval came not only a short-term solution for 2009 but a player who has since developed into one of the best kickers in franchise history.
That player is Connor Barth, and having developed such a valuable asset, the Buccaneers want to keep it. As such, the team announced on Friday that it has placed its 2012 franchise tag on the 25-year-old kicker.
Barth set several Tampa Bay franchise records in 2011, most prominently a 92.9% success rate on field goals that snapped Steve Christie's 21-year-old mark of 85.2%. Barth made 26 of his 28 tries to rank second in the entire NFL in field goal percentage last fall, barely trailing the 93.1% mark posted by Atlanta's Matt Bryant (27 of 29). Barth also moved into first place on the team's career field goal percentage chart, with a current mark of 84.0%, and tied the Buccaneer record by making his last 16 in a row to end the 2011 season.
Having accrued four seasons of free agency credit and with his Buccaneer contract set to expire this month, Barth was on track to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13. The Bucs essentially assured that their dead-on kicker will remain with the team in 2012 by utilizing the franchise tag, and Barth will be well-compensated for his efforts. If he plays under the tag this season, he will earn the average of the top-paid player at his position over the last five seasons.
The Buccaneers used a "non-exclusive" franchise tag on Barth, rather than the "exclusive" tag which prevents the player from negotiating with any other team. Barth may negotiate with other teams, but the Buccaneers retain a right-of-first-refusal on any offer sheet he signs with another team, and if he were to sign elsewhere Tampa Bay would get two first-round draft picks back as compensation.
This is the first time the Buccaneers have made use of the franchise tag option since 2009, when they placed it on wide receiver Antonio Bryant after Bryant's 1,248-yard season.
Using the franchise tag on kickers has been a common strategy around the NFL in recent seasons. Since 2007, six such tags have been placed on kickers, and several more could join that group in 2012. The kickers tagged in the previous five offseasons include Seattle's Josh Brown in 2007; Cincinnati's Shayne Graham and Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed in 2009; Seattle's Olindo Mare and Pittsburgh's Reed again in 2010; and Cleveland's Phil Dawson in 2011. In fact, the only positions that received more franchise tags than kicker from 2007-11 were linebacker and defensive tackle.
In addition, Barth is one of five kickers who received the franchise tag this year, joining Dawson, Cincinnati's Mike Nugent, Denver's Matt Prater and Jacksonville's Josh Scobee.
Barth did not miss a field goal of 45 yards or less in 2011. His two unsuccessful attempts last year were a 46-yarder that hit the right upright and a 55-yarder that fell short. That long miss, while unsurprising for any kicker, belies the fact that Barth has also shown a knack for long-range three pointers. Later in the season, against Houston, he made another 55-yard attempt, tying for the third-longest field goal in team history. Overall, he made seven of his nine tries from 46 yards or farther away, including five that could have disrupted his 16-kick streak to end the season.
In 2009, in just his second game as a Buccaneer, Barth became just the fourth kicker in NFL history to make three field goals of 50 or more yards in a single game, hitting on shots of 51, 50 and 54 in Miami. Later that season, he connected on a 47-yard field goal in overtime in New Orleans to lead the Buccaneers to a massive upset of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Saints. In 2010, his 31-yard field goal with one second left completed a 24-21 comeback win for Tampa Bay in Cincinnati. Last year against Carolina, Barth became the third player in NFL history to make four or more field goals of at least 40 yards in a single half, connecting on shots of 50, 47, 46 and 44 yards.
Barth originally joined the Buccaneers near midseason in 2009 after the team had first tried Mike Nugent and Shane Andrus. Since then, Barth has made 63 of his 75 field goal attempts and all 71 of his extra-point tries. He is already the seventh-leading scorer in team history, with 260 points, and needs just 17 more to pass former running back James Wilder for the sixth spot.
Prior to arriving in Tampa, Barth played one season in Kansas City and spent the 2009 preseason with the Miami Dolphins. After joining the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina, Barth appeared in 10 games and made 10 of 12 field goal attempts and 24 of 24 point after attempts. His career NFL field goal percentage, with the Kansas City season included, is 83.9% (73 of 87).