When Sean McVay was hired as head coach in 2017, special teams was the only thing that worked for the Los Angeles Rams. Credit McVay for getting the Rams right on offense and defense, reaching a Super Bowl in 2018 and winning it all in 2021. But much more consistent than Matthew Stafford or L.A.’s defense is the fact that McVay has no respect for kickers, constantly rotating through cheap options and letting good ones get away when they don’t have to be let go, and that problem came into play in Sunday’s 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Not because Brett Maher was McVay’s first choice as a kicker this season. In fact, Maher is at least the third.
Maher, who was let go by the Dallas Cowboys after he went 1-of-6 on extra points in the 2022 playoffs, missed an extra point and two field goals in a seven-point loss to the Steelers. Three plus three plus one equals seven. Maher entered the game 12-of-12 on extra points but he’s now missed six field goal attempts on the season, the most in the NFL.
How did we get here? Well, it’s not that hard to do when a team makes no effort to find or keep a good kicker.
McVay inherited Greg Zuerlein in 2017 and that season, Greg the Leg made his one and only career Pro Bowl/All-Pro roster. But McVay moved on in 2020 and he’s currently on the New York Jets. Zuerlein is 14-of-15 on field goals and 5-of-5 on extra points.
In the 2020 offseason, McVay brought in three untested kickers, including seventh round pick Sam Sloman, the eventual winner of the competition. But Sloman went 8-of-11 on field goals and 18-of-21 on extra points and the team added Kai Forbath. Forbath missed a field goal and an extra point over two games and the Rams added Matt Gay, a miracle find at midseason. Gay spent three years on the Rams, making the Pro Bowl in 2021, and went 74-of-80 on field goals, 95-of-97 on extra points.
Though L.A. was short of cap space, the Rams could have found enough money to keep Gay as a free agent or franchise tagged player in 2023. The team decided that was not in their best interest and Gay signed with the Colts. He is 12-of-14 on field goals and 18-of-18 on extra points, including 5-of-5 on attempts beyond 50 yards...prior to having a 60-yard attempt blocked on Sunday.
Just like 2020, McVay didn’t bring in any serious competition to replace Gay, instead going with undrafted free agents Tanner Brown and Christopher Dunn. The team moved on from Ward early, then Brown just before the season after a bad preseason and then decided to pick up Brett Maher for the practice squad with the intention to bring him up for Week 1, which is what happened. Maher didn’t win a competition for the Broncos and in fact Denver decided to trade for Wil Lutz instead of either of their two options in the preseason.
The Rams didn’t try to trade for Lutz or for anyone. Instead, L.A. decided that the best plan of action was to cross fingers for another reclamation project find that would be “good enough”—after all, Mather did go 29-of-32 on field goals last season prior to imploding in the playoffs. He has made three field goals of at least 60 yards.
But he’s also a journeyman kicker who has been released by NINE TEAMS in the last six years. Based on the first seven games, Maher is close to making it ten teams and the Rams will have to bring in competition soon if it continues, if not by this Monday.
Is it a bad idea to be cheap with kickers and not overthink your hand when deciding on the next option? Not when you’re winning. The Rams had the offense and defense to minimize any mistakes by Matt Gay during their Super Bowl run.
But McVay’s not playing with a full deck on his roster and so that’s when decisions on special teams will be magnified. Even if Maher may not be the reason that L.A. Rams just lost to the Steelers, McVay should have known he didn’t have a kicker who could be the reason that his team wins close games either.