We’ll be taking a look at some of the key names in Falcons free agency in the coming weeks, both to try to figure out who the team might prioritize and who they might be comfortable letting walk.
Let’s kick off the series, appropriately enough, with the team’s kicker. Younghoe Koo is one of the team’s most familiar stars and one of the team’s few consistent bright spots in 2021, and this was also one of the easiest articles to write in this series. We don’t need to wait any longer to consider Koo’s free agency prospects, so let’s talk about those now.
27/29 field goal attempts, 93.1% conversion rate
30/30 extra points, 100% conversion rate
56 kickoffs, 62.6 yards per kickoff, 20 touchbacks, 51.8% touchback rate
2 punts, 35 yards, 45.0 yards per punt average
A year after breaking the franchise single season record for field goal attempts and makes, Koo had a quieter season thanks in large part to a shaky offense that didn’t give him enough opportunities. Naturally, he was still incredibly efficient, boasting the third-best field goal percentage in the NFL, tying three other kickers with a career-first perfect extra point percentage, and even handled a couple of punts. Koo isn’t the best in the NFL at kickoffs, but he’s quite solid there and among the very best in the NFL when it comes to kicking the ball through the uprights.
It was fair to wonder whether he might take a step back after that stellar 2020, so the fact that he didn’t tells you everything you need to know about how good he is.
The case for signing Koo
It practically writes itself. If we didn’t even consider his on-field achievements, Koo is one of the team’s most marketable faces and a terrific guy by all accounts. If culture matters—and these Falcons keep saying it does—letting a player who leads by example and consistently delivers walk would be a mistake.
Obviously, though, they’re paying for the on-field contributions. Over the past two seasons, Koo has been among the very best kickers in football, finishing top five in field goal percentage and hitting 12 of 13 kicks from 50 yards and beyond. A willing special teams tackler who also handles kickoffs and even filled in as an emergency punter, Koo is extremely young for a kicker (he’ll be 28 when the 2022 season kicks off) and has now produced at an elite level in back-to-back seasons. Given the year-to-year variance for kickers, that’s a very good sign that Koo belongs in the upper echelon of kickers.
This team has needed him to be great, too, given their notable offensive struggles both in the red zone and just shy of it. While I’d expect and hope the offense would take some strides forward, it’s not like they’re going to suddenly be able to roll on comfortably with a mediocre kicker.
Koo is a restricted free agent, so simply tendering him at a second round level would presumably be enough to keep him around, given how unlikely it is that another team would cough that up for a kicker. That would cost the team just shy of $4 million this year, and they could always look to negotiate a long-term deal to give themselves some short-term cap space if they really want to. Koo is worth every penny.
The case against signing Koo
Saving money, I guess? If there’s a college kicker you love or an unheralded free agent find you’re confident in, you could perhaps talking yourself into not ponying up $4 million or more for your kicker with so many other needs across the team.
That’s legitimately the only reason I can think of, and even that’s a pretty shaky reason given that the going rate for a really good kicker is above $4 million per year across the league. Today, 12 kickers are averaging that on their deals, and I think arguing that Koo is a top five kicker in the NFL is both easy and fair.
The verdict: Re-sign Younghoe Koo, obviously
We’ve been spoiled for a long time now when it comes to kickers. Ever since Matt Bryant came to town, the Falcons have basically had one of the league’s best kickers every single year, the up-and-down end of journey Bryant and Giorgio Tavecchio stretch notwithstanding. You need only look around the league to see the difference between a good kicker potentially saving the game, as Justin Tucker and Greg Joseph did against the Lions this year, and a shaky one losing it. Hell, NFL kickers set a record for missed extra points just this season, and we don’t want to endure that kind of uncertainty at the position. Having one of the NFL’s better kickers might be a luxury, but it’s one of those luxuries you miss badly when it’s gone.
Koo is one of the team’s few no-brainer re-signings heading into 2022, and it would be shocking if they let him go. The hope will be that a better team and particularly a better offense will give him more extra point tries and a few more reasonable field goal attempts, because we can feel confident Koo will be able to nail them.