The Buffalo Bills re-signed their record-setting place-kicker and pursued a big-bodied cornerback on the first day of free agency.
Dan Carpenter had one of the finest place-kicking seasons in Bills history last year, making 33 of 36 field-goal tries. He signed a four-year contract just minutes after the start of the NFL’s free-agency shopping season. Terms were not available, but the deal is believed to be worth roughly $2.5 million to $3 million a season.
Meanwhile, the Bills flew Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll into to town Tuesday night, and they released backup quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Carroll meets with Bills coaches today. He’s a big, fast player who entered the NFL as a raw prospect but played pretty well as a starter in Miami last season. Is he good enough to get contract worthy of a capable NFL starter? Miami, with loads of money to spend, apparently didn’t think so.
Carpenter, 28, is a Montana native who spent his first five NFL seasons with Miami. The Dolphins dumped him last summer in favor of a strong-legged rookie. Carpenter bounced from the Cardinals to the Jets and then to the Bills, just days before the start of the regular season. Buffalo signed him because rookie Dustin Hopkins suffered a groin injury.
It was a fortuitous pick-up. Carpenter tied Steve Christie’s team-record for field goals in a season. His percentage of 91.67 was second best in franchise history. He made 4 of 6 kicks from 50 yards or more.
Carpenter was joined at a news conference Tuesday by his wife, Kaela, and their son, Colby. He said he felt at home from the start in Western New York.
“My wife and I very much enjoyed everyone that we’ve met here, worked with here, and the fans are great,” Carpenter said. “Even when I was playing against Buffalo in my Miami days, I’ve always recognized how great the fans have been here and their support of the Bills. For us it was a no-brainer to come back to Buffalo. We were comfortable and loved it here last year.”
Carpenter never actively pursued other offers because of the Bills’ desire to sign him.
“All along from Day One the Bills let Dan know they wanted him,” said Carpenter’s Maryland-based agent, Noel LaMontagne. “Buffalo was extremely aggressive in order to make sure he didn’t go anywhere.”
Carpenter’s 2013 campaign was a career year. But he has a good track record over six NFL seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2010. His career percentage of 83.7 ranks 10th among active kickers with more than three seasons. Going back to 2012, he has made 49 of his last 53 attempts.
“It was obviously my best year so far,” he said of 2013. “I set a high standard for myself, and it’s one that obviously I want to keep going. I’m going to do everything I can in the offseason and all the way up to the season starting to work hard and get better. Just try to keep it going from last year.”
Carpenter is not one of the NFL’s strongest-legged players on kickoffs. He had touchbacks on 42 percent of his kickoffs, which ranked 25th in the NFL. The league average was 50.6 percent touchbacks. The 10th-best team in touchbacks averaged 58.5 percent.
The Bills drafted the strong-legged Hopkins in the sixth round last season. Given the Bills’ commitment to Carpenter, it would seem Hopkins’ best chance to make the squad in 2014 would be to show such a strong leg that coach Doug Marrone would be convinced to keep a kickoff specialist on the roster.
“It feels great to know in March where we’re going to be,” Carpenter said.
“I can move my family up here, we can get settled in well before the season has started.”
Carroll’s visit represents a chance for the Bills to bolster the cornerback position. Buffalo returns its top three corners from last year. But Carroll, 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, brings a physical dimension the Bills could use. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds before the 2010 draft. He lasted until the fifth round because he started his career as a receiver and played only two seasons at corner.
He didn’t play a lot his first two seasons, but started 10 games in 2012 and 12 last season. He had three interceptions last year. The Dolphins view him more as a No. 3 corner. Carroll is smart. His mother is formerly the lieutenant governor of Florida.
The release of Kolb was widely anticipated. He missed all last season with a serious concussion. His release saves the Bills $2.6 million against the salary cap.
The Bills also signed tight end Mike Caussin to a contract. He spent each of the last two seasons on the injured reserve list.