Fourteenth in yards per punt, fourth in the league in net yards per punt, fourteenth in longest punt, seventeenth in punts downed inside the 20 yard line, no blocked punts, sixth in average yards per return. Fourteenth in return yards against, twelfth fewest touch-backs. In all but one of those categories Sam Martin is in the top half of the league, but punting statistic are largely subjective. If kicking it as far as you can every time was the goal, this would be easier – with place-kickers there is one statistic for each aspect of their game that tells you everything you need to know about their performance; for the punter what he is being asked to do on any given kick may be completely different than the last time, which could be inherently different from the next time. It is actually a difficult thing to put a value on a player like this, making the question “Should the Lions extend Sam martin early?” a difficult one to answer using just his rankings in the NFL’s published statistical categories.
So what do the statistics actually say then about Sam Martin? He did have a higher than average number of total punts, with a very low number of touch-backs, and finished in the bottom half of the league in punts downed inside the 20. Low touch-backs, and low numbers downed inside the twenty on a larger than average number of punts tells us that the majority of the time, Sam Martin’s job was simply to net the team as much field position as possible. That he was fourteenth in yards per punt, but fourth in net yards per punt tells you that while Martin may not boom the ball farther than every other punter, he makes it difficult for the opposition to return the ball by putting a lot of height on his punts. In total the numbers put Martin in the top tier of directional punters in the NFL, though by no means at the top.
So; should the Lions extend Sam Martin Early?
Well, the top tier of NFL punters get paid between $2.5-$3.75 million. The franchise tag for punters however, is blended with the place-kicker position, and thus the franchise tag at the punter position is $4.5 million, or $4 million if they are willing to use the transition tag and make it so they have the opportunity to match any offers, but can’t stop other teams from bidding on him. He has a cap hit this season of $715k, putting the cost this year of a Sam Martin extension, assuming he gets near the top of the scale, let’s say $3.5 million per season, at a single year opportunity cost of $2.7 million. But the guys at the top of the scale are all on contracts signed two or more seasons ago, there is not a huge inflationary effect on punters from year to year, making the savings over the term negligible from year to year. As with my argument regarding Darius Slay, the early extension also allows the Lions to defer the signing bonus over an additional season, but at this position, a longer contract than usual can be justified, and the bonus money is likely to be fairly low, making that not nearly as big an issue. Specialists typically get low bonuses, and higher base salaries relative to other positions, making it fairly painless for teams to end their contract early. This also means that even teams with a punter under contract who think Martin is a better player than theirs, and that would likely be 20 or more teams, could easily clear room for him were he to make it to free agency.
You’re forgetting something important
What’s that? I can hear something coming through the ether. “Sam Martin also does the Lions Kick-offs.” Well, you’re not wrong, despite being some kind of pirate ghost voice in my head, but let me let you in on a little secret, he does them poorly. Sam Martin was fourth last in the league in touchback percentage on the road in 2015, a dizzyingly poor 36.36%. At home it was better, good for 11th place among kickers on their home turf, but of all the teams with indoor stadiums, a serious advantage in terms of kick-offs, the Lions were second last in the NFL, beating only New Orleans in touch-back percentage. In 2013 Martin’s numbers were every bit as awful as they were in 2015, so at the moment it looks like his 2014 season, in which he was second in the league, was an anomaly. Sam Martin handling the kick-off duties is more an indication of why Matt Prater should make less than why Sam Martin should make more.
Get to it! Should the Lions Extend Sam Martin Early?
The capper of this argument for me is something that has nothing to do with the Lions. Mike Scifres, and Britton Colquitt are also free agents next season, and have deals near the top of the scale for punters; Scafres is 35 years old and Colquitt 30. Both of their teams, the Chargers and Broncos respectively have a history of paying big for their specialists, and could look at Martin as a possible replacement for an older veteran with soon to be diminishing abilities and a big price tag. There are a total of seven teams that currently have a punter with an expiring contract, and of the seven I would put Martin at or very near the top of the heap of free agents due to performance and age. Someone will offer him a deal that puts him close the top of the punter scale if he is allowed to reach free agency, meaning that for the Lions to avoid having to match a crazy deal they would have to use the actual full franchise tag on a punter, and negotiate from a point of weakness. So yes, without a shadow of a doubt, the Lions and their 11th ranked $19 million in remaining cap space, should probably shove some of that toward Martin if they want to keep him around. The cost could be much higher next season, up to and including losing the player. Any other player in this series is more likely to get the franchise tag than the punter if they have a good year, so it could get a little bit crazy if the Lions engage in a game of chicken with him. This is not a player that the Lions want to lose, and waiting has a very good chance of creating that outcome.
So there you have it, probably the most in depth look at the Lions punter’s contract situation that you’re likely to get, as requested by /u/Perry87. As always you can find me on /r/detroitlions as /u/A5hcrack and Twitter @a5hcrack, though I only do requests when I’m 50/50 on whether the person making the request is trolling me. Either way I get to give someone something they want, whether it’s them actually wanting the article, or me giving someone who’s trolling me a shot back. This was, as all will be, written assuming the former, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did 😉