The New England Patriots and kicker Adam Vinatieri avoided any prolonged dispute when they agreed to a three-year contract Friday, thereby removing the franchise tag placed on the playoff hero back in late February. Terms were not disclosed.
The two sides had until March 15 to reach a deal to remove the franchise designation, which would have paid Vinatieri $1.24 million for one season with no signing bonus – an amount equaling the average of the top five kickers in the league.
Had no agreement been reached before the end of business Friday, the team would have had to either remove the franchise label and allow Vinatieri to become an unrestricted free agent or keep him tagged and wait for him to accept the terms. If he remained franchised he could have signed with another club, but with that other team forking over two first-round draft picks as compensation.
The use of the franchise designation often leads to animosity between the player and the club because the player only receives a one-year contract with no signing bonus to secure his future. Defensive lineman Sean Gilbert held out for an entire season after Washington franchised him following the 1996 season and was eventually traded to the Carolina Panthers. Wideout Joey Galloway was franchised by Seattle and eventually traded to the Dallas Cowboys because of ill will between the two sides.
Vinatieri earned a hefty raise with his playoff heroics, his overall reliability and consistency and his ability to kick in New England's weather conditions. The sixth-year kicker hit 24-of-30 field goals during the 2001 regular season with a long make from 54 yards. He then hit a 45-yarder through the snow to tie the Patriots Divisional Playoff game against the Raiders – a game he also won with an overtime 23-yarder in the same snow storm.
He connected on 1-of-2 attempts in the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh before grabbing hero status with his 48-yard, last-second field goal that split the uprights to give the Patriots a 20-17 Super Bowl XXXVI win over the St. Louis Rams back on Feb. 3.
For his career, Vinatieri has hit on 160-of-199 regular-season field goal attempts for an 80.4 percent conversion rate and has scored 688 points while eclipsing the 100-point plateau in each of his six seasons. He entered the 2001 playoffs with 11 game-winning field goals and booted two to help the Patriots become world champions. Including the playoffs, Vinatieri had five game-winners in 2001, including three in overtime. His longest career field goal is from 55 yards back on Sept. 22, 1996 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.