Laying out options for Bills at kicker

Earlier Monday, we continued our "pricing the market" series with kicker Dan Carpenter, comparing his statistics to those of similar free-agent kickers last offseason.

The point of the exercise is to determine a fair-market value for Carpenter's services. Teams and agents will often pore over contracts from the prior year's free-agent period, finding the closest match to the player and using that data in negotiations.

There are other factors involved, however. In this case, the Bills have some leverage in any talks with Carpenter. They used a sixth-round draft choice last April on Dustin Hopkins, who beat out veteran Rian Lindell for the kicking job in training camp.

In early September, Hopkins' season was ended by a nagging groin injury. Along came Carpenter, a sixth-year veteran who had a career season in Buffalo. He was perfect on field goals in the second quarter or later and connected on 4 of 6 kicks from 50 yards or longer.

After bouncing around several teams last summer, Carpenter now has re-established himself as an NFL kicker. Barring an injury or a significant slide in his performance, he'll have a job next season. But will it be in Buffalo?

That all depends on how the Bills handle the next few weeks. Here are their options:

Assign Carpenter the franchise tag: This would be the most aggressive option on the Bills' part, and also the most unlikely. While the NFL has yet to release its franchise tag amounts, a kicker is expected to cost a guaranteed one-year salary of $3.4 million. Even though the Bills have the cap space to pull it off, that's a steep price tag for a specialist, especially when the Bills have a viable replacement (Hopkins) already on their roster.

Re-sign Carpenter and create competition: This would be the most ideal scenario for the Bills, but it could be hard to pull off. Keeping both Carpenter and Hopkins on the roster into training camp would provide them with options at kicker based on how both players perform in the preseason. However, it could be hard to convince Carpenter to return under those circumstances. If all of his contract offers were relatively equal, Carpenter would likely choose the team that offers him greater job security (i.e. no young kicker as competition). Assigning Carpenter with the franchise tag, on the other hand, would ensure competition at kicker but also bring a greater cost than a deal on the open market.

Let Carpenter walk: This would be the most cost-effective option for the Bills. If they feel comfortable with Hopkins as their "lead" kicker entering training camp, this could be the way they go. Hopkins will cost just $523,000 against the salary cap this season. The Bills could then sign an undrafted free-agent kicker (at a minimum salary) and call it a day. They would be losing Carpenter, who could prove to be a quality kicker, but this approach would show a level of financial discipline from the team.