The day after the 2015 NFL season came to a close, Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher wasted no time in making it clear that his team would be on the lookout for competition at kicker.
Fisher's proclamation came after Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein finished the season with the lowest field goal conversion rate among regular kickers and had a game-winning 48-yard field goal blocked.
Of course, Fisher also said the Rams would like to bring Zuerlein back in order to have a legitimate alternative who could push Zuerlein in a training camp and preseason setting. Now, more than three weeks into free agency, Zuerlein remains unsigned and the Rams remain interested in bringing him back.
"Oh yeah," Fisher said at last week's owners meetings. "He wants to come back and we have interest in having him back. I’m sure we’ll get something, assuming we’ll get something worked out soon. Going to create a competitive environment, however, for him. I think he needs to compete this year."
Unlike recent years where the Rams have brought in nothing more than camp legs to help Zuerlein rest, Fisher means it when he says he wants to bring in someone who could push for, and potentially win the job.
"That’s correct," Fisher said.
For his part, Zuerlein told me after the season that in a "perfect world" he would return to the Rams. That still could happen as his market hasn't really materialized.
Zuerlein is an interesting case study for teams that might want to kick the tires. He was something of a sensation in his rookie season, earning nicknames like "Greg the Leg" and "Legatron" for his prodigious field goals. He still boasts one of the league's strongest legs but his accuracy, especially from long distance, has waned since those early days of his career.
Among the 37 kickers who attempted a field goal in 2015, Zuerlein ranked 35th in the league in field goal percentage as he converted 20 of 30 for the season. Only former Steelers kicker Josh Scobee and former Tampa Bay kicker Kyle Brindza came in below Zuerlein's 66.7 percent conversion rate, and that duo attempted 10 and 12 field goals, respectively. Zuerlein was also 26-of-28 on extra points.
In fairness, the Rams have asked a lot of Zuerlein when it comes to field goal attempts. In 2015, he tried nine field goals of 50-plus yards, making three. Those nine tries were the second-most among all kickers.
"Any time you go out there and miss kicks, you are not going to be happy about it," Zuerlein said after the season. "I think I’ve got to get better and convert those kicks. Really, that’s all it comes down to is making kicks, and I didn’t make as many as I would have liked."
Zuerlein battled a leg injury that kept him out of a couple of late-season games last year but said after the year that he couldn't quite pinpoint why his accuracy wasn't where it used to be.
But, as we mentioned on Monday, the league's changes to the kickoff rule could actually work in Zuerlein's favor. He had 38 touchbacks in 2015, tied for 24th in the NFL. But Zuerlein was fifth among regular kickers in opponent distance to the goal line after a kickoff with an average of 78.5 yards. In other words, Zuerlein is capable of using high kicks and angles to keep opponents from starting with good field position after kickoffs.
With touchbacks coming out to the 25-yard line, Zuerlein's ability to manipulate kickoffs could be a more valuable commodity that gives him a leg up (pun unmercifully intended) in any kicking competition the Rams might hold.