Why Evan McPherson and Other NFL Clutch Players Will Always Lag Starpower

By on January 31, 2022 0

Maybe Evan McPherson had a hunch he would turn the corner. Five days before Sunday’s AFC Championship game, the Cincinnati Bengals kicker filed a trademark application for the phrase “Money Mac.” This quickly turned out to be true. The 22-year-old hit a 31-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs and send his team to its first Super Bowl in 33 years.

He wasn’t the only one pulling off a heroic moment. Los Angeles Rams kicker Matt Gay threw a 30-yarder with 1:46 left to play, which proved to be the difference for his team in their NFC Championship win over the San Francisco 49ers, the last of a series of playoff cliffhangers.

It’s obvious how much teams rely on kicks – it’s an almost surefire way to score. This season, NFL teams have averaged 85% of field goals attempted, according to Pro Football Reference. It proved particularly poignant in these playoffs. Five of the last six games have been won by a margin of three.

“Although they don’t play a lot, when they do play all eyes are on them,” says Lisa Delpy Neirotti, director of the sports management program at George Washington University.

Yet despite the pivotal role kickers can play, they remain one of the lowest-paying positions in the NFL. That probably won’t change. Kickers only appear for a handful of games per game. The financial focus in the league is on more impactful positions. The four quarterbacks of yesterday’s games earned $71 million on the field this season. The kickers only $6 million.

Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson notched the highest on-court earnings of his contemporaries at $6.7 million, thanks in part to a $4 million signing bonus, according to Spotrac. McPherson, a rookie, raised just over $1 million. Gay raised $850,000. By comparison, the NFL’s top five on-field earners this season have earned at least $29 million, with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott leading the way with $75 million.

When it comes to kickers, brands are no less generous than teams. League stars, who are mostly quarterbacks, can unlock multi-million dollar marketing windfalls. Kickers are lucky if they only make a fraction of it, according to Delpy Neirotti. She estimates that these players obtain at best five-figure offers from local or regional partners.

There are outliers. Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has appeared in commercials for Dr. Pepper, Duracell and Royal Farms throughout his 10-year NFL career. Things like longevity, authenticity, and strong social media can attract offers. Although even a more recognizable kicker like Tucker, who holds the league record for the longest field goal at 66 yards, doesn’t make close to seven figures, Delpy Neirotti believes.

Those who are consistent like Tucker can still carve out a lucrative existence in their playing salaries. Eighteen kickers, including Tucker, have earned over eight figures in their careers. This number will only continue to increase as rising media contracts continue to increase league revenue and raise the salary cap. McPherson’s hallmark is a good movie with potential, but the real earning potential for him and other NFL kickers is tied to league ratings.

It won’t be easy. The NFL’s 32 teams are limited to 53 roster spots, most of them with only one roster kicker and usually two or three quarterbacks. For this reason, Eugene Lee, an agent for Vanguard Sports Group, rarely takes on kickers as clients, calling his approach “pragmatic”.

“There are a limited number of jobs and it’s a high-pressure position,” he says. “You can’t have two bad games in a row.”