With an annual average salary of $3.3 million, the 5th year player now becomes the 3rd highest paid place kicker in the NFL, behind only veterans Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders and Adam Vinatieri of the Indianapolis Colts.
This is not to suggest that Barth has not made a strong case for being lavishly compensated. After stabilizing Tampa Bay's kicking position with his arrival in the middle of 2009, the University of North Carolina product has posted 2 strong campaigns and displayed increasingly valuable accuracy.
In 2011, Barth converted an impressive 26 of 28 field goal attempts, including 17 kicks from a distance of at least 40 yards. During a week 13 contest with the Carolina Panthers, the kicker even successfully booted 4 attempts from at least 44 yards in just the game's 1st half.
In addition to ending the past season with 15 consecutive converted field goals, Barth has never missed an extra point since entering the league with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008 -- accumulating a perfect total of 95 of 95.
Despite these lofty accomplishments, every fan is hesitant to see their team invest heavily in the kicking game, where success is often fleeting and the differences among kickers appear minimal.
Furthermore, Tampa Bay surely hesitated to commit to Barth after the fallout from last year's free agent contract awarded to punter Michael Koenen. In luring him away from the division rival Atlanta Falcons, the Buccaneers shockingly signed the veteran to a 6 year, $19.5 million deal. Though Koenen's powerful leg is a special teams' weapon, and the 29 year-old additionally handles kickoff duties, General Manager Mark Dominik was widely criticized for this gaudy contract.
Back in February, Connor Barth was designated as the team's franchise player. Though the Bucs hoped to ink him to a 1 year deal, the 26 year-old frustratingly declined to sign a corresponding 1 year, $2.65 million franchise tender.
Beyond his initial refusal to sign, the disgruntled kicker sat out of April's veteran mini-camp and made clear his intentions to attain a long-term deal, similar to Koenen's.
In the end, the Buccaneers caved and provided Barth with mutually-acceptable terms. Though I am dubious of the kicker's worth as the NFL's 3rd highest salary by position, I concede that only time will tell if this was a smart investment.
It should be noted that the contract is clearly superior to previous terms with the club's punter. In addition to the obvious differences of 2 fewer years and over $6 million, most agree that a place kicker is a more valuable position, which tends to possess greater opportunities to influence the outcome of a game.
Furthermore, blogger Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com noted that Barth's contract is generally favorable to future salary caps. Receiving only a front-loaded $3 million signing bonus in 2012, the deal does not contain burdensome pro-rated bonuses down the road. Additionally, only a modest $4 million in total is actually guaranteed.
Though the Bucs have assigned a considerable amount of spending into their kicking game, a case can be made that the contract given to Connor Barth makes sense. Firstly, special teams should continue to be a definite asset of an otherwise needy club. Additionally, Barth's stellar performance did merit an upgrade in pay. Finally, the agreement's numbers are not as harsh as they appear. With minimal long-term risk to the Bucs, only if the kicker continues to excel, will he paid handsomely.
Mark Dominik's lesson was learned: the snickers from around the league will be far fewer for 4 years, $13.2 million to a kicker than for 6 years, $19.5 million to a punter.
Yahoo! Sports, TampaBay.com, ESPN.com
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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