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Contract extension amounts to a Wing and a prayer

Steelers punter Brad Wing

 

Last week’s announcement that the Steelers signed punter Brad Wing to a one-year contract extension is puzzling to say the least. No matter how you sort the 2014 punting statistics in the key categories, Wing’s first year with the Steelers was underwhelming at best. To display a vote of confidence to a middling performer by signing him to a contract extension so soon seems odd.

While Wing did appear in all 16 games last season – no small feat for a Steelers’ punter in recent years – his punting averages (43.7 gross and 38.8 net) ranked in the bottom third of the league. Of his 61 punts during the regular season, Wing dropped just 20 of them inside the 20 yard line. There were only three punters who managed to place fewer balls inside the 20 than Wing in 2014. And I was actually surprised to learn that Wing had just four touchbacks last season. I could have sworn there were twice that many.

Sure, there’s more to the success of the punting unit than the guy who puts his foot to the ball, but football – at its very core – is a battle for field position. No matter where the offense stalls, the punt team has to give Wing a good snap and keep the rush off him long enough to execute a quality kick. When a ball remains in the field of play, the coverage team can help Wing’s net average by hemming in the return man for a minimal gain.

Now, I’m not saying Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should be targeting a punter with a high draft pick as they did with Daniel Sepulveda back in 2007. Spending a fourth-round pick on a punter raises enough questions – especially when there are other areas of the team that need to be addressed – but Sepulveda had already suffered a torn ACL while in college. Sepulveda went on to tear the ACL in his right knee for a second time in 2008, injured the knee again in 2010 and was out of the league before the start of the 2012 campaign.

For Wing to earn the contract extension he signed last week, he’s going to have to do a better job flipping the field in the Steelers’ favor next season. If he can’t do better than he did in 2014, someone else should be doing the job.

Kevin Ritchart joined the Steelers Gab writing staff in January 2015. He is a veteran writer and editor who has a passion for all things black and gold. In addition covering local high school and college sports for the Trib Total Media family of newspapers for more than a decade, Kevin also possesses a wealth of professional experience in the fields of marketing and advertising. Kevin earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky in 1998 and completed work on his MBA in marketing at Argosy University in 2013. He’s enjoying his current role of freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. You can follow Kevin on Facebook, Twitter @KevinRitchart and Google Plus. To see Kevin's full bio please go to our Meet Our Staff page.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. DrGeorge

    January 30, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Fine analysis again, Kevin. For the Steelers, it obviously wasn’t that much of a stretch to re-sign Wing. The decision was probably based on more than stats: (1) Wing is a left-footed punter and some coaches think that causes problems for some return men; (2) the Steelers will probably invite several free agent punters to camp, just to give Wing a little company and competition for the job; (3) Wing will probably improve between now and August; (4) although Wing’s yardage is below the NFL average, he gets pretty good hang time, and this aids our struggling special teams unit; and (5) having Wing under contract is good insurance, one of the many subtle costs of being competitive. On balance, not so puzzling a decision as it appears at first.

  2. Blkandgold4Life

    January 31, 2015 at 1:09 am

    1st bad preseason move.. This guy was awful

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