Kickers have long been maligned by football fans, but there's little denying that the position is still important. The difference between a good kicker and a mediocre one is bigger than people might think. You don't want your playoff chances resting on the leg of a kicker who's shaky from beyond 45 yards, for instance.
In addition, the NFL moving back the extra point line could mark a sea change in the value of kickers. A kick that used to be automatic can no longer be taken for granted, and we saw multiple cases of kickers losing their jobs last season because they couldn't consistently hit an extra point attempt.
Whether this leads to more lucrative contracts for kickers remains to be seen, but this year's free agent class may not be the best barometer. The best free agent kicker (Justin Tucker) has already been franchise tagged, and a couple more may follow in his wake, since kicker remains the cheapest position to tag. Beyond Tucker, there are a number of solid veterans and some younger kickers who could use a change of scenery, but there's not much in the way of depth. Teams that need a kicker but can't land one of the top names may have to settle for a lottery ticket in the draft or undrafted free agency.
With that in mind, let's take a look at this year's top kickers in free agency. (Only two were ranked among our top 100 free agents, but you can check out the entire list here.)
Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
Tucker enjoyed another stellar season in 2015, making 33 of 40 field goals and nailing all 29 extra point attempts. Of note, he made all but one field goal attempt under 50 yards. Tucker is expected to be one of the highest-paid kickers in the league and was already slapped with the franchise tag while the Ravens attempt to lock up the 26-year-old long term. He was one of Baltimore's few bright spots in an injury-riddled season.
Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
It was 10 years ago when the New England Patriots dumped Vinatieri and opted to draft a rookie kicker, Stephen Gostkowski. Though the move worked out for the Pats -- Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the league -- Vinatieri is still close to the top of his game.
The 20-year veteran is the oldest player in football and seems determined to keep playing in 2016. Vinatieri has actually been more accurate in Indianapolis than he was in New England, converting 86.6 percent of his field goal attempts with the Colts opposed to 81.9 percent of his chances with the Patriots. It's worth noting, of course, that Vinatieri hit three Super Bowl-winning kicks with New England.
Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
Crosby has been the Packers' kicker for the past nine seasons, and barring an unexpected breakdown in negotiations, he should return to Green Bay for a 10th year. The 31-year-old had another solid season in 2015, making 24 of 28 field goals (including 4 of 5 from 50 yards or more) and hit all 36 of his extra point tries.
The Packers and Crosby are expected to reach a new deal without the franchise tag getting involved, so he's unlikely to hit the open market. On the off chance he does, however, he'll be one of the more sought-after kickers this offseason.
Josh Brown, New York Giants
Brown turns 37 in April, but he should still have plenty left in the tank. The veteran has been in the league since 2003, enjoying productive stints with the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and New York Giants. He made 30 of 32 field goals last season, nailing all three attempts from beyond 50 yards, so Brown's leg strength is still there.
If the Giants don't elect to re-sign Brown, he should quickly get back on his feet as a steady veteran presence. Brown is one of those solid aging kickers who could keep playing well into his 40s if he doesn't have a fast decline.
Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams
Zuerlein burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2012, earning nicknames such as "Greg the Leg" and "Legatron" for many high-profile field goals from 55 or more yards. However, that strong leg has faded over time. In 2015, Zuerlein made just 20 of 30 field goals, and converted only 3 of 9 attempts from beyond 50 yards. Needless to say, the hype and nicknames have cooled off for the 28-year-old.
Zuerlein's stock has declined to the point that Rams coach Jeff Fisher is openly talking about kicker competition. It's not a sure thing that he'll be in LA next season, but some team will certainly gamble that his leg hasn't completely abandoned him. A change of scenery might be best for Zuerlein and the Rams.