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Colts, Super Bowl hero Vinatieri agree to terms

(March 21, 2006) -- The Indianapolis Colts are switching from the NFL's most accurate kicker to the best in the clutch.

Taking a key piece from its rival New England, Indianapolis agreed in principle to a deal with Adam Vinatieri, the Colts said. Vinatieri, who twice hit winning kicks in the Super Bowl for the Patriots, will replace former Pro Bowl kicker Mike Vanderjagt.

The deal was announced on the team's Web site, though terms were not immediately available. Messages left with the Patriots and agents for Vinatieri by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.

The Patriots allowed Vinatieri to test free agency rather than putting a franchise designation on him.

"It just didn't feel like the right thing to do," coach Bill Belichick said last month at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. "We considered all our options and decided not to tag anybody."

Vinatieri, 33, had been named the team's franchise player twice, including last year.

Vanderjagt spent all eight of his NFL seasons with the Colts after playing in the Canadian Football League. He scored a franchise-record 995 points and made 217 career field goals in 248 attempts, the highest accuracy rate (87.5) in league history.

In 2003, Vanderjagt made all 37 of his field-goal attempts, all 46 of his extra-point attempts and set the NFL record by extending his consecutive field goals streak to 42.

But twice in his career he missed critical field goals in the playoffs. In January, he badly missed a 46-yarder in the closing seconds, which would have forced overtime with eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.

At Miami, in January 2000, he missed a 49-yarder wide right that would have won the game and sent the Colts into the second round of the playoffs.

Team president Bill Polian acknowledged last month it was unlikely the Colts would re-sign Vanderjagt, an unrestricted free agent.

"He'll probably elect to go somewhere else, so that's probably a position we'll have to fill," Polian said at the NFL's annual scouting combine.

Vanderjagt won't have a choice now. He reportedly has visited Miami, and has drawn interest from the Green Bay Packers.

What the Colts are getting in Vinatieri, though, is the most reliable postseason kicker in recent memory.

The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years, and Vinatieri was a primary reason. He kicked the game-winner in 2002 with no time left to beat the St. Louis Rams, then beat Carolina in the '04 game on another last-second kick; his field goal midway through the fourth quarter of the '05 title game turned out to be the difference in a victory against Philadelphia as well.

A descendant of Gen. George Custer and a third cousin of Evel Knievel, Vinatieri once caught Herschel Walker from behind and tackled him. He hasn't had to hear about being "just a kicker" since then.

Vinatieri made 94 percent of his field-goal attempts and all of his extra points in 2004 to lead the NFL with 141 points and make his second Pro Bowl. Last season, he went 20-for-25 on field goals and missed one of 41 extra-point attempts.

In his career, he is 263-for-321 for field goals while missing seven of 374 extra points for 1,156 points. And he did it kicking in one of the NFL's most inhospitable environments.

To Vinatieri, and many others, the most impressive kick in his résumé wasn't to win a Super Bowl, but a 45-yarder in a driving snowstorm to tie a 2002 playoff game against Oakland. He also made a 23-yarder in overtime to win that one.

Now, he will be kicking indoors.

The Colts also will get a different attitude.

Vinatieri has been mostly quiet, a stark contrast from Vanderjagt, who often caused ripples within the organization for his outspoken comments and antics.

In January 2003, Vanderjagt criticized quarterback Peyton Manning for not showing enough emotion and coach Tony Dungy for being too nice. Manning later responded by calling Vanderjagt an "idiot kicker."

The two later patched up their differences, and Vanderjagt acknowledged he was worried then that the Colts might release him. Instead, they stayed with Vanderjagt.

But after missing the field goal against Pittsburgh, Vanderjagt then attempted a 46-yard field goal on David Letterman's show, a tactic that created some consternation within the organization.

Vinatieri is the third big name to leave the Patriots since free agency began. Last week, defensive end Willie McGinest signed with the Cleveland Browns and receiver David Givens signed with the Tennessee Titans.

It's also the first major free-agency signing for the Colts this year. Previously, they had lost two-time NFL rushing champ Edgerrin James to Arizona, starting linebacker David Thornton to Tennessee and defensive tackle Larry Tripplett to Buffalo.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2006, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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