Koenen signs free-agent deal with Tampa Bay
July 29, 2011
TAMPA BAY, Florida - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced today that they have signed unrestricted free agent punter Michael Koenen to a six-year contract.
Koenen, who originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent following a standout career at Western Washington University, has spent his entire six-year career with the divisional rival Atlanta Falcons.
During his time as a Falcon, Koenen punted 440 times for 18,501 yards and a 42.0 gross punting average. He has also recorded 32 touchbacks on punts and his 150 punts inside the 20 yard-line are tied for the eighth-most since the 2005 season. Koenen continued his ability to place punts inside the 20, with 29 last season, tying for eighth in the NFL.
Koenen is also a highly regarded kickoff specialist, recording the third-most touchbacks (106) and third-highest touchback percentage (23.6) since he entered the league in 2005. Last season, he helped the Falcons hold opponents to the worst starting field position in the League (22.2 yard-line), as well as help the team rank first for the most times an opponent started inside their own 20 yard-line (23), all of which were touchbacks by Koenen. His 48 kickoffs to reach the endzone were the third-highest mark in the league and his 26.4 percentage of kickoffs to result in a touchback was tied for the third-best in the league.
Michael Koenen makes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a better team (and officially signs contract)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Michael Koenen to a six-year, $19 million contract officially, today. Yes, that is a lot of money. $3.2 million dollars per year for a punter and kickoff specialist, it sure sounds like a lot. And yes, it's likely the Buccaneers overpaid slightly for Koenen. But calm down: that doesn't really matter. $3.2 million per year isn't going to prevent the Bucs from making any moves. But what it will do is make the Bucs a better team.
The Bucs haven't had a solid punter since Josh Bidwell injured himself before the 2009 season, and it has been a major weakness for the team. They've tried out numerous punters since then, even drafting one in the sixth round last year, but haven't been able find a reliable punter with a big leg. Koenen at least offers consistency: he produces very few shanks, pins teams inside the 20 with regularity (the 8th highest percentage doing so over his time in the league according to Buccaneers.com), and gets good hangtime on his punts. In 2008, the Falcons allowed the fewest punt return yards per punt in the league, in part thanks to Koenen's kicking ability.
Still, there's reason to doubt his value as a punter alone. His 42.0 gross career average is nothing to write home about. Now, that average doesn't tell the whole story as offensive efficiency strongly affects punt averages. Besides that, as said, hangtime is very important. Still, Koenen doesn't have a Shane Lechler punting leg. But his consistency makes up for a lot. There's little more frustrating than watching a 20-yard shank, and a 60-yard punt a drive later won't make up for that.
But Michael Koenen's biggest value may come as a kickoff specialist. Connor Barth has been a valuable and accurate field goal kicker, but has failed to be a force as a kickoff specialist, which is a big source of hidden yardage in the NFL. Even with kickoffs moving from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, Connor Barth won't be all that useful as a kickoff specialist. Barth averaged just 61.7 yards on kickoffs last season, and averaged 61.3 over his career. That gave a returner the ball around the 9-yard line last season, and will give him the ball around the 4-yard next season. That's not the kind of production you want out of a kickoff specialist.
Contrast this with Michael Koenen, who averaged 67.6 yards on kickoffs last year and has averaged 65.9 yards over his career. That pinned opponents inside the 5-yard line in previous years, and if he maintains that leg strength, Koenen should provide the Bucs with many touchbacks next season. Failing to kick the ball into the endzone cost the Bucs the game against the Atlanta Falcons last season. In coming seasons that will be a lot less likely, as the Bucs now have the ability to actually produce touchbacks with regularity.
Basically, the Bucs just signed a great kickoff specialist (some teams have carried players on the roster just for this role), and a solid punter. Is that worth that contract? Maybe not. But it's a move that definitely makes the Buccaneers better, and that's what should count.
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