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The veteran finished strong in an uneven season, but is his time in a Bills uniform over?
The Buffalo Bills have, for the better part of the last 20 years, employed strong kickers. From Rian Lindell to Dan Carpenter to Stephen Hauschka, the team has had a steady stream of solid contributors in the kicking game.
One thing about kickers is that, in theory, they can stay in the game for a long time. Without the contact associated with football, as long as they keep making kicks, they can stick around well into their 40s. Another thing about kickers is that, sometimes, as quickly as they can become useful weapons, they can fall off a metaphorical cliff in terms of their ability to convert stalled drives into points. Whether this “fall” comes as a result of age, “the yips,” or something else, it inevitably happens to everyone.
In today’s installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile Buffalo’s veteran kicker, a player who has shown some signs of decline over the last two seasons.
Name: Stephen Hauschka
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 210 lbs.
Age: 35 (36 on 6/29/2021)
Experience/Draft: 12; signed as UDFA with the Minnesota Vikings following the 2008 NFL Draft
College: Middlebury (VT)
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 3/9/17
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Hauschka enters the first year of a two-year extension he signed last year. The deal is worth a total of $8 million, of which $5.025 million is guaranteed. Most of those guarantees were paid out last year, however, in the final year of his initial contract with the Bills. Hauschka’s 2020 cap hit is $3.05 million, and the team would carry a dead-cap charge of $1.25 million if he were released prior to Week 1.
2019 Recap: For the first nine games of the season, Hauschka picked up right where he left off over the final four games of the 2018 season—that is, he was not good. To close out 2018, he was only five for his last nine on field goal attempts, and through Week 10 in 2019, he was eight for 13. After a disastrous outing against the Cleveland Browns where Hauschka missed two field goals (one from 34 yards at the end of the first half and one from 53 yards at the end of the fourth quarter), Hauschka rebounded nicely at the end of the year. He made 18 of his final 19 field goal attempts, including a perfect four for four in the playoffs. Hauschka’s biggest area of decline continues to be from long distance. He made just one of five field goals from over 50 yards in 2019. On the year, he hit on 22-of-28 field goals (78.6%) and 30-of-32 extra point attempts (93.8%). Nearly 58% of his kickoffs went for touchbacks last year.
Positional outlook: The Bills drafted Tyler Bass in the sixth round this year to compete with Hauschka throughout camp. They also signed Kaare Vedvik, who has experience as both a kicker and a punter, and all signs point towards him providing competition exclusively at punter.
2020 Offseason: Hauschka expressed some concern about football’s ability to be played this season (via Tim Graham at The Athletic).
2020 Season outlook: Hauschka’s decline in effectiveness from distance coincides neatly with a dirty blindside hit he took from New York Jets defensive end Henry Anderson in 2018. Whether his diminishing effectiveness on long field goals is part of the natural aging process or an unfortunate side effect of that hit isn’t able to be determined for sure, but the dots line up too easily for us not to consider connecting them. Hauschka was elite from distance from 2011-2017, missing nine kicks of more than 50 yards in that span. Over the last two seasons, he’s missed seven kicks from over 50 yards. It’s that diminishing effectiveness that makes me wonder if Hauschka has kicked in his final game with the Bills, as the team made a significant investment in Bass by spending a draft choice on him. The team was ready to replace Hauschka last season, but they were not granted Chase McLaughlin on waivers thanks to another team (the Indianapolis Colts)having a higher priority. For the first time since his arrival in 2017, Hauschka appears to be facing a legitimate challenge for his roster spot.