Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham, recently a United States citizen, recently made clear that he has no intentions of being something other than “Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham”. The idea that this would be a topic of conversation would have seemed absurd back in July, but a lot of things have happened since he tore his ACL, and expose some of the unfortunate aspects of the ‘business side’ of the game.
The Steelers went through two more kickers, of course, before they got to Chris Boswell, the first-year kicker who ended up replacing the veteran Josh Scobee, for whom they paid good money, as well as a sixth-round draft pick. Little was expected, but much was delivered.
In 12 games, Boswell successfully converted 29 of 32 field goal opportunities, finishing 10 in made field goals in spite of playing three-quarters of the season, and his 90.6 made percentage was among the best in franchise history. He then went seven-for-seven in the postseason and was much more successful in recording touchbacks as well, though playing a game in Denver helped that.
Suisham, meanwhile, had by and larger become a source of stability for the Steelers since his mid-season acquisition in 2010. With the exception of a shaky 2011 season including a blocked field goal, he has been good for over 90 percent efficiency.
Over the course of the past three seasons, he has made 87 field goals out of 95 attempts, an average of 91.6 percent. For his career with the Steelers, he has made 87.9 percent of his field goal opportunities. Taken as an entire career percentage, that would second-best all-time among kickers with more than one season played, behind only Dan Bailey of the Cowboys.
Considering that Suisham with the Steelers has been, from at least one perspective, the second-most accurate kicker in history and, over the past three seasons, has been accurate on better than what Boswell delivered in the regular season this year, one might wonder why they would favor a one-hit wonder over a veteran.
Suisham coming off of an ACL tear doesn’t help, to be sure. Injuries are never a positive thing, even if they often become non-factors. Suisham is also 34, however, but, again, age is not nearly the factor it is for almost any other position other than punter and long snapper.
There is the matter of Suisham’s $3.5 million cap hit. He signed a four-year extension in 2014 that paid him over $12.5 million in new money. But a contract restructure takes away virtually any cap savings from the move, which would produce a dead money charge of $3.3 million. He will count nearly the same on the 2016 cap whether or not he is on the roster, barring a post-June cut.
Suisham has done nothing wrong, it should go without saying. That the team was willing to restructure his contract last year was a sign of how much stock they put in him being a long-term investment. But the injury, and Boswell’s emergence changes everything.
Having once had seeming job security, his injury could well result in him losing his job through no fault of his own. The Steelers simply found a younger, cheaper option, especially in terms of actual dollars. If Boswell can provide a roughly equal performance, then he figures to get the job. Suisham may have banked a small handful of millions during the process, but it’s still an unfortunate, human side of the business of the NFL, as in life.