In case anyone wasn’t aware, the Green Bay Packers were really, really bad at special teams last season.
They’ve been bad in most seasons, but last season was particularly terrible. The offense deserves a share of the blame, too. But special teams cost the team a deep playoff run thanks to sheer incompetence against the San Francisco 49ers.
Every aspect of that dreadful unit was terrible. Even the usually reliable Mason Crosby regressed significantly. Crosby led the league in misses just a year after not missing a single field goal. The holding situation wasn’t great, and the long snappers weren’t good, but Crosby isn’t blameless.
With a new coordinator in Rich Bisaccia and Crosby having a relatively high cap number for a kicker ($4,735,000 in 2022, according to Spotrac), it was fair to wonder if Crosby could be a cap causality. But the Packers found other ways to become cap compliant, and Bisaccia is content to let a kicking competition play out.
“I’d like to see all three before we make a decision,” Bisaccia said in April, referring to Crosby, JJ Molson (who spent all of 2021 on Green Bay’s practice squad), and Dominik Eberle (who worked with Bicaccia in Vegas).
Crosby outlasted the other two, even after not kicking during mandatory minicamp. But Green Bay recently picked up former Oklahoma kicker Gabe Brkic from the Minnesota Vikings on waivers, and the rookie kicker could be Crosby’s biggest competition yet. Can Crosby outlast the rookie?
Brkic isn’t just a random camp leg — he was one of the top collegiate kickers who declared for the NFL. A Lou Groza semifinalist in his redshirt freshman and sophomore years and a finalist as a redshirt junior, Brkic was consistently recognized as one of the top kickers in the nation. His five field goals over 50 yards in 2021 led the nation.
Brkic was viewed as the second-best kicker in this draft class, and, surprisingly, he wasn’t drafted on Day 3. Only LSU’s Cade York, who went to the Browns in the fourth round, was ranked ahead of Brkic.
The former Sooner was a very similar prospect to Crosby when the latter left Colorado. Per Brian Maafi, who covered kickers for the CheeseheadTV NFL Draft Guide:
“He has a cannon for a leg but struggled with accuracy in 2020 and 2021. On deeper kicks, he had eight misses on 25 attempts from 40-plus from 2020–21. For a guy with his leg strength, he should be getting more touchbacks. This all points to either a mechanical issue or a confidence problem.”
Also, his name looks like brrr-kick, which just gives off the perfect vibe for kicking in Lambeau Field.
With monstrous leg strength and correctable issues, Brkic could become a threatening kicker in the future. Would Green Bay choose to bank on his raw ability and Bisaccia’s well-regarded coaching and gamble on the rookie over Crosby?
It seems unlikely, but with a fresh take on special teams, it’s anyone’s guess. Bisaccia is a respected outsider who will bring a new perspective and may want to find his own guy. He’s already brought in a new punter (Pat O’Donnell, who spent most of this off-season living in Crosby’s basement). The team brought in Jack Coco to compete at long snapper. Bisaccia could choose to replace all three specialists.
Or he could hope Crosby follows his tradition of bouncing back after off years. Crosby had a similarly awful year in 2012 before rebounding in 2013 and starting a successful run that led him to become Green Bay’s all-time leading scorer. Crosby has also consistently beat out any competition brought in to try to push him from his job.
Despite his down year, Crosby had some specular highlights, including a beautiful game-winner against San Francisco in Week 3. In Week 5, he and Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson played the wildest game of kicker vs. kicker all time, but Crosby beat the rookie to win the game. It’s hard to find a reliable kicker in today’s NFL (something, something Vikings).
In Crosby’s favor, he’ll have plenty of time to build chemistry with his teammates through training camp. Last season, Corey Bojorquez joined the team just before the start of the regular season, and the two never built chemistry in the holding operation. Conversely, Crosby has spent the summer living with his punter. The chemistry should be much better.
And Brkic didn’t do enough to stick around in Minnesota, despite his pedigree, which could mean he isn’t quite ready for an NFL starting job. Or he could be a legend in waiting. You never know with Vikings kickers.
Crosby is still the favorite to kick some balls for Green Bay in Week 1. But it’s a new regime with a celebrated coach, and Brkic is likely the most decorated competition Crosby has had. It’s anyone’s guess how things will play out.