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Out with the old, and with the Nuge

With the Bengals' hopes this season fading fast, taking a long term approach at kicker for the rest of the year is the right move. One of the free agent best kickers available, Ross Martin, joined Cincy Jungle for an exclusive interview.

It's been a tough year to watch as a Bengals fan, especially when they line up in a kicking formation. Kickers are like closers in baseball; there are only a few great ones and for the rest, it is a tense situation whenever you see them on the field.

But there comes a point when you need to say sub-par play isn't good enough and hand over a pink slip. Right now, that should be happening for Mike Nugent. Rather than dwell on a front office decision that we cannot change, I'm going to offer you some hope as to what could be a solution for the Bengals beyond 2016.

Enter Ross Martin, an UDFA kicker who grew up off the shores of Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio and played his college ball at Duke University. Martin is an Ohio boy, born and raised, and boasts a quality resume from college and with the Jets in the preseason.

Pro Football Focus rated him their highest kicker in the 2015 class for field goals. He was consistent in college and has a good combination of accuracy and power. There are some concerns with his kickoff abilities, see Scott Schulze's article from before the draft for that, but Ross does provide some clarity on that in our exclusive interview, which can be heard below. Here are some key stats from Ross Martin at Duke.

  • He was 42 of 42 on PAT tries his senior year of college and 196-197 in his career.
  • Field Goal percentage of 90.5% in 2014 and 86.7% in 2015
  • 22 touchbacks to only 1 illegal procedure on kickoffs
  • Connected on FGs of 53, 51, 52, 53, and 51 yards in separate games during his senior year.
  • 13-16 on FGs attempted over 40 yards and 5-5 over 50 yards
  • Never had a FG or PAT blocked while at Duke
  • NFL scouts commended him for his mental toughness. He was a psychology major at Duke.e
  • With the Jets in the preseason he was 4-6 on FGs with a long of 55 yards and was 15/15 in simulated practice kicks over 50 yards.
  • He has the leg strength to make kicks over 60 yards, here is a recent kicking workout video.

Most NFL teams want a kicker who has NFL experience. It's considered a risky move to sign a kicker out of college. The problem with that strategy is that you will likely never get a great kicking option with that attitude, this just gives you a short term band-aid. Look at the kicker who opposed the Bengals last week, Justin Tucker. How much would we give for him right now? This is why signing Zach Hocker, who the Bengals had on the offseason roster, won't be the answer for the long haul.

Why wouldn't the Bengals take this time to swing for the fences and try to find the next great kicker? When the Ravens cut Billy Cundiff in 2012 for Tucker it was a risky move, but it paid off in a big way for their future. I hate to admit it, but the forward thinking Ravens saw the writing on the wall with Cundiff's decline in 2011 and now have the best kicker in the NFL as a result. With risk comes reward and in a lost season this is what you need to do to be great franchise. It's a season to find pieces that can help you in 2017 and beyond. It is also a way to find out if players are not good pieces, too. Could adding Ross Martin cost you a game in 2016, sure it could, but wouldn't you rather find out what is behind door number two rather than keep the below average product you already have?

I know I would, and if you get lucky, you find your kicker of the future and don't need to use valuable draft capital on a kicker in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Ross was nice enough to chat with me for about twenty minutes about his past, present, and hopes for the future. I've been vocal on social media about wanting the Bengals to bring in Ross and here are some of the replies I have received from the people who cover the Bengals.

To these tweets I just say, how can you be so certain?  I want to see it for my own eyes and it literally cannot hurt, since the Bengals' current option has missed three of his past four PAT tries.

How is something that happened just four years ago being considered so long ago that it is no longer relevant? What is there to lose? If it's an awful move, you get a higher draft pick and answer the question that you still need a kicker. If it works out, you look like a genius and everyone will start to forget about this woeful season.

To address these concerns I'll let you hear from Ross directly. Here is the full interview I did with Ross this week.

The Bengals' fan base is looking for anything to feed off of and this would be something the fans would get behind. The fans want to see heads roll and the status quo is not getting them excited. Let's be real, Marvin Lewis is unlikely to be fired, especially mid-season, but give us something to sink our teeth into. It could be a move that turns out badly, but it could turn out to change the franchise for the better.

Specialist are some of the only players who can play poorly without really affecting any other positions. You can't cut your lame duck players at other positions because it could risk lack of depth, or disrupt the chemistry. If a kicker does poorly it really only impacts him and the scoreboard. Isn't that why guys like Steve Smith Sr. joke about kickers all the time? Mike Nugent is a free agent after this season and it's pretty clear he is not coming back in 2017, so why not start looking for his replacement now while opportunity strikes?