Nearly nine months ago, Pittsburgh Steelers K Chris Boswell received a handsome four year extension worth nearly $20 million. The deal made Boswell one of the highest-paid kickers in the league, and at the time, Steelers fans would tell you he was worth every penny. Yet 2018 turned out to be for the worse when it came Boswell’s production, as the Pro-Bowl kicker went a mere 13-20 for a cool 65% conversion percentage, good enough to rank 39th among NFL kickers last season.
Boswell’s league-worst seven misses were only matched by Green Bay Packers K Mason Crosby in 2018. And Boswell’s five missed extra-points were uncharacteristic for any place-kicker in the league. From missing a potential game-winning kick in Cleveland, to sliding on his backside down the stretch of the season, Boswell was thought to be as good as gone once the season concluded.
Following the Steelers 24-21 loss in Oakland that featured Boswell booting a potential game-tying football directly into his linemen, coach Mike Tomlin called Boswell’s multiple misses “disappointing” in his post-game press conference. Boswell’s response? “He’s not the only one that’s disappointed. This is a business. You’re valued or looked at on results, and I’m not getting it done right now. Whatever happens from here happens.”
Fast forward to late February, where GM Kevin Colbert made it known Boswell would have competition at some point before the new season began. Matt McCrane, who replaced Boswell after hitting injured reserve, was expected to compete with Boswell this off-season. McCrane went 3-3 in week 17 against the Bengals and would have been the kicker of choice had Pittsburgh made the playoffs. Yet the Steelers missed the postseason, and McCrane was released just days ago. Aside from Boswell, the only kicker on the current roster is undrafted free agent Matthew Wright out of Central Florida.
So with all the above stated, how do the Steelers genuinely feel about Boswell and his chances of improving in 2019? The answer can be found in the simplest of Run-D.M.C.’s lyrics: It’s tricky.
Scouring through various quotes and clips, it appears for every positive or negative comment directed towards Boswell, it’s followed by a opposite comment to leave whatever audience available with the impression that Pittsburgh remains on the fence about Boswell. Take Colbert’s very comments less than three months ago on the team’s current stance on Boswell:
“The drop-off with Chris Boswell was surprising, disappointing and this is something that Chris shares with us like we share with him” Colbert spoke on a conference call with reporters in late February. “We believe that Chris Boswell has the ability to do better than he did, he has already proven that. He set a standard for himself in 2017, as a Pro Bowl player and last year statistically he was one of the worst kickers, and that’s a huge drop-off.”
Late in the season, Tomlin found himself pussyfooting around the issue on Boswell’s performance. In example, before the Steelers week 15 meeting with the New England Patriots, Tomlin along with the rest of the coaching staff deemed it necessary to bring competition before one of the biggest games of the season.
Mike Tomlin on Chris Boswell: "Here's our position: We acknowledged that Chris has struggled . . . we're willing to explore options" Those options "will include Chris"
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) December 11, 2018
The Steelers ultimately stuck with Boswell, who went 1/2 in the Steelers 17-10 victory over the Patriots. After the big victory, Tomlin wasn’t shy in awarding confidence in Boswell that was absent just a week prior.
"He’s our kicker from start to finish and I liked the way he came back and banged that next opportunity and that is what this thing is about." — Mike Tomlin on his polarizing kicker, Chris Boswell pic.twitter.com/a1ByFfbocd
— Chase Williams WPXI (@chasepwilliams) December 17, 2018
The above tweets aren’t a knock on Tomlin, but more-so to capture the Steelers confidence levels on Boswell. The sentiment from December still rings true six months later: The Steelers are cautiously hopeful about Boswell turning it around come time to play in 2019. From shelling out a considerable amount of dough at Boswell to seeking help from a couple of former Steelers kickers including Jeff Reed in late 2018 to re-align Boz’s psyche, Pittsburgh feels as if the money and resources invested into Boswell is too heavy of a factor to cleanly cut him after one poor season.
Boswell will indeed find himself kicking against competition come time for the team to make their annual trip to Latrobe for training camp. Whether Matthew Wright can actually pressure Boswell for his job or if his signing is simply a ploy by the front office to get Boswell’s competitive juices flowing is a conversation for another day. In all likeliness, Boswell will retain his job heading into opening night barring any unforeseen circumstances.
However, comments from those with heavy say within the organization have made it very clear that while Boswell comes in with expectations to bounce back in 2019, he is no longer the irreplaceable kicker he portrayed himself to be in years prior.